In a recent case, a long-serving and experienced sewer worker pursued an unfair dismissal claim against Thames Water after he was summarily dismissed following an incident in which he entered a sewer to conduct an annual inspection without wearing breathing apparatus. This contravened newly introduced safety requirements.
The employee’s manager was only given a written warning, which the employer said was due to the difference in experience as the dismissed employee had worked for Thames Water for 34 years.
The unfair dismissal claim succeeded as no specific action had been taken by Thames Water to train the employee to ensure he was aware of the new safety requirements. The court also held that the difference in treatment between him and his manager was unfair.
Sarah Furness, employment law expert at Hay & Kilner commented: “This case shows that if a failure to follow a new procedure is going to result in disciplinary action, employers have got to make sure they spell that out. Employers must inform their employees about changes to rules and procedures, not just assume knowledge.”
She added: “It’s also a reminder that Employment Tribunals are usually not keen to treat managers differently, and let them off the hook when others are being disciplined. Doing this without very good reason is likely to prejudice legal fairness, as will failing to take into account long service and previously unblemished disciplinary records.”
For further information, please contact Sarah Furness, Associate Solicitor at Hay & Kilner
Call: 0191 232 8345