Tribunal Tale – Health & safety drives you mad

In today’s working environment the importance of health and safety cannot be overstated. The application of these rules can sometimes cause tensions.

In a recent case the Claimant, who was a track maintenance supervisor, was tasked with implementing and maintaining health and safety standards. His colleagues were not informed of this and complained that he was “overcautious and somewhat zealous” in his style. Tensions with his colleagues continued to rise and eventually the Claimant was dismissed because a “loyal workforce had become demoralised”.

The Claimant subsequently raised a claim for automatic unfair dismissal on the grounds of health and safety. His claim was unsuccessful at the Employment Tribunal. They stated that while he was doing his job, his dismissal was not linked to the duties he was employed to carry out but rather the way he had done this and the impact it had on others.

The Claimant successfully appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal. It was not possible to separate the Claimant’s duties from the manner in which he fulfilled them. The EAT also stated that the protection offered by s100(1) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 is “broad”. In order for an employee to lose the protection of this section when performing health and safety activities their conduct would have to be “wholly unreasonable, malicious or irrelevant to the task in hand”.

This case illustrates the importance of open communication in the workplace, especially in relation to health and safety. If the workforce had been aware of the Claimant’s duties in this area relationships may not have broken down as easily. Workplaces anticipating a return to the office will need to ensure that appropriate health and safety procedures are put in place, followed, and that the staff in charge of enforcing these standards are supported. Employees who have these responsibilities have broad protection under the law, so it is essential that any issues or concerns are resolved early.

If you have any questions on any of the issues mentioned in the above article, please contact Natalia Milne.

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