Section 100(1)(a) Employment Rights Act 1996 says that an employee is unfairly dismissed if they were dismissed for carrying out activities assigned by the employer which are designed to reduce or prevent health and safety risks. A dismissal under this section will be automatically unfair and employees do not need the usual two years’ continuous service to bring these claims.
In Sinclair v Trackwork, the employee was a Track Maintenance Supervisor who was asked to implement a new safety procedure. His colleagues did not know he had been given this task and complained about his approach which they said was ‘over cautious and somewhat zealous’. This created ill feeling and friction among his colleagues, for which the employee was later dismissed. He brought a claim for automatic unfair dismissal. The employment tribunal said he had not been unfairly dismissed. He was dismissed because of the way he had carried out his health and safety activities and demoralised the workforce, not because of the health and safety activities themselves.
The EAT disagreed. Carrying out health and safety activities will often be met with resistance from colleagues. That is why the protection of section 100(1)(a) exists. It would undermine the purpose of the law if any upset or ill feeling caused by legitimate health and safety activity could be hived off and treated separately from the activities themselves. The EAT said there may be cases where an individual’s conduct can be separated from the activities – if that conduct is unreasonable, malicious or irrelevant to the task – but that was not the case here. The employee had simply done as instructed and relationships with colleagues had soured as a direct result of those activities. The EAT said he had been automatically unfairly dismissed and sent the case back to the tribunal to decide on remedy.
This case is important during a pandemic, where health and safety activities will often be delegated to members of staff and may be met with some resistance, especially as society opens up. Unless an employee is behaving in a malicious or unreasonable way in relation to those duties, they will be protected from any dismissal relating to the way they have carried out those duties. The messaging in your business is important here. It is important to demonstrate from the top that health and safety duties are both vital and respected. That will guard against a culture of resistance to activities which are designed to keep everyone safe.
Find out how we can help. Our partner, Jon Dunkley, heads the Wollens specialist Employment Department. Contact him today for an informal chat, without obligation on 01271 342268 or via email at [email protected].