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Employee wins appeal against unfair health and safety dismissal

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

In the case of Sinclair v Trackwork Limited, Sinclair was employed by Trackwork and tasked with implementing a new safety procedure. Trackwork did not inform its other employees about Sinclair’s mandate to do this, and they raised concerns about what he was trying to do. In particular, they complained about his ‘overcautious and somewhat zealous’ approach.

He was subsequently dismissed for the ‘upset and friction’ that his activities had caused. Sinclair claimed that he had been automatically unfairly dismissed.

He was unsuccessful at first instance with the employment tribunal finding the reason for dismissal was the fact that a loyal workforce had become demoralised by the way in which he was managing health and safety i.e. it was his methodology, rather than his designated health and safety activities, that caused his dismissal.

The EAT, however, disagreed stating that, “the souring of relations, or the over-zealous manner in which the Claimant carried out his duties, are not matters which can be said to be properly separable from the carrying-out of those activities.” As such the EAT accepted that the employee had been dismissed because of his responsibility for health and safety matters. In reaching this decision the EAT placed weight on, “the fact that carrying out such activities will often be resisted, or regarded as unwelcome, by other colleagues,” and that this was one purpose of the protection provided by legislation.

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