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Legal News | 11.06.21

Sinclair v Trackwork Ltd: Dismissal of an employee implementing new Health and Safety procedures in an ‘overzealous’ manner held to be unfair

Sinclair v Trackwork Ltd: Dismissal of an employee implementing new Health and Safety procedures in an ‘overzealous’ manner held to be unfair

With the Covid-19 restrictions easing, many employers are considering the measures that must be put in place to protect the health and safety of employees when returning to the workplace. A recent case, Sinclair v Trackwork Ltd, highlights that in accordance with s.100(1)(a) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA 1996), employees cannot be dismissed for carrying out health and safety activities.

Mr Sinclair, a Track Maintenance Supervisor, was instructed by his employer to implement a new safety procedure. The employer (Trackwork Ltd), had not informed Mr Sinclair’s colleagues that he had been asked to do this. When Mr Sinclair carried out the task, his colleagues complained to the employer about his actions. Trackwork Ltd dismissed Mr Sinclair for the “upset” and “friction” caused by his activities.

The Employment Tribunal initially dismissed Mr Sinclair’s unfair dismissal claim on the basis that the reason for Mr Sinclair’s dismissal was that Mr Sinclair had carried out his health and safety duties in a manner which appeared ‘overzealous’ resulting in a demoralised workforce. Mr Sinclair appealed the decision.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld the appeal finding that Mr Sinclair’s health and safety activities did not exceed his mandate and were not found to be malicious, untruthful or irrelevant to the task he had been asked to undertake. Additionally, the manner in which the activities were carried out could not be properly separated from the action of carrying out those activities. As such, the reason for dismissal did fall under s100(1)(a) ERA 1996 and it was therefore automatically unfair.

In its conclusion the Employment Appeal Tribunal emphasized that s100(1)(a) ERA 1996 seeks to guard against the fact that implementing new health and safety procedures will often be resisted, or regarded as unwelcome, by other colleagues. Further, it would entirely undermine the protection provided by s100(1)(a) ERA 1996 if an employer could rely upon the upset caused by a legitimate health and safety activity, as a reason for dismissal that was unrelated to the activity itself.

This decision has provided some important clarification on the scope of the protection provided by the ERA 1996 to employees carrying out health and safety activities in the course of their employment. It is also a prudent reminder to employers in light of the new guidelines on keeping the workplace and your staff COVID secure, communication is key.

If you would like to discuss the content of this article or if you have any employment law queries, please get in touch with your usual contact at Wansbroughs, via our contact form https://wansbroughs.com/contact/ or email: emma.jewell@wansbroughs.com