Case Study: Francis and the office chair
From time to time we will tell you about a Birmingham employment law case we have recently dealt with. This is the story of Francis, a window cleaner, and the discplinary process that led to his dismissal.
Francis was an employee in a multinational business that provides, among other services, window-cleaning to commercial customers.
Francis was caught on CCTV standing on an office chair to clean a window in a client’s prestige car showroom. This was a clear breach of Health and Safety policy and common sense. In a disciplinary process he said he did it because the firm did not provide him with a safe step-ladder.
In reality, a step-ladder was available, but it had not been inspected in over a year, which according to the firm’s health and safety policy should not have been used as it was not proved safe.
Francis had actually asked his employer for new, safe equipment several times before the incident. He had evidence of this as his colleagues had seen him asking for it in meetings.
So why did Francis take the risk of being caught breaching the health and safety policy? He said he was under pressure, as his employer threatened his employees to reduce their pay if a customer complained about their work.
After a disciplinary process, Francis was dismissed for gross misconduct. An important aspect of employment law is reasonableness. Francis’s dismissal seemed excessive and unfair, especially when Francis had been working for the company for over 13 years and had a clean disciplinary record.
Francis claimed that the company was trying to reduce jobs and saw an opportunity to replace a redundancy process with a disciplinary process. The theory that the firm was in financial difficulties explained things like equipment not being replaced, management not giving holiday pay to staff and the weekend pay being lower than promised.
The company’s position was that Francis had (by his own admission) breached the Health and Safety policy and that this justified his disciplinary process and dismissal. After appealing and going down the tribunal route, the employer agreed to pay Francis £7k in compensation for lost earnings after his dismissal.
What swung it for Francis is that he had witness evidence from a colleague showing that the equipment was faulty and that the firm was putting him under financial pressure, which could partially justify breaching the firm’s policy. This case shows that a claimant in a similar situation needs evidence to support his claim.
By Lily Wilde
Image used under CC courtesy of Victor