RFB’s Employment Team has successfully acted on behalf of a Forklift Truck Driver who was suspended and then dismissed by his employer for whistleblowing about dangerous loading of pallets in a warehouse.
The Claimant was operating a forklift truck to move a pallet when it fell at a height of 9m. This was because it was dangerously loaded with packages that were overhanging the pallet and kept together with cellophane. The packages can weigh around 500kg, so the fallen pallet could have had fatal consequences for workers on the warehouse floor below. The Claimant immediately reported the incident to one of his supervisors, but no further action was taken, nor was the incident documented. A few days later, the Claimant observed a further overloaded pallet which he again reported to his supervisor, but he was told to continue working.
When the Claimant saw another overloaded pallet, he retrieved his mobile phone from his locker and used it to photograph the danger. He subsequently showed these photos to the Health and Safety Officer.
Later that day the Claimant was suspended. The employer alleged this was for using his mobile in the warehouse during work hours in breach of their rules. The Claimant was called a few days later and he was dismissed during the call, without following any of the employer’s contractual disciplinary procedures.
The Tribunal’s decision
The Tribunal found that the Claimant’s reporting of the dangers presented by overloaded pallets amounted to qualifying disclosures. EJ Havard stated that “it must be in the public interest if the aim of the disclosure was [to] ensure the health and safety of the workforce”. In photographing the pallets, the Claimant was held to have brought his concerns to the employer by reasonable means. His actions were appropriate in order to protect himself and other workers.
The Tribunal was unconvinced by the employer’s submission that the dismissal related to the Claimant’s improper use of his mobile phone. They decided that suspending the Claimant amounted to a detriment. The Tribunal also concluded that the reason for the Claimant’s dismissal related to him making qualifying disclosures of health and safety concerns.
The Tribunal further found that the Claimant was entitled to be paid for the period of his suspension, and that the failure of the Respondent to pay him during that period was an unlawful deduction from wages. Finally, the Claimant’s dismissal amounted to a breach of contract, entitling him to 4 weeks’ notice pay in accordance with his contract.
The Tribunal awarded the Claimant compensation in the total sum of £15,019.46, which included a sum of £3000 for aggravated damages due to the employer having behaved in what could be described as an insulting manner.
Published 4th July 2022