Unfair dismissal due to trade union activity

A postal worker who was dismissed from his job at Royal Mail for urinating in a public lay-by during his rounds was unfairly dismissed, a tribunal has ruled, finding the main reason for dismissal was a “poor relationship” with his line manager who “did not see eye to eye” with the claimant because of his trade union activities.

The claimant had worked for 17 years with a clean disciplinary record. He was an assistant area health and safety workplace representative and a Communication Workers Union (CWU) branch editor, as well as the deputy area safety representative for his CWU branch. He claimed that his union activities “brought him into conflict with his direct line manager.

A customer complaint was received about a postal worker urinating in a public lay-by, which was caught by a vehicle dashcam. Following the complaint, the claimant was suspended and invited to a fact-finding meeting. The notes for the meeting showed that the claimant admitted it was him in the video; however, the claimant disputed this and sent an amended version of the notes. In these amended notes Rawal “admitted it could have been him” but was unsure because the incident occured six weeks before in a lay-by he drove past “10 times a day”. 

Royal Mail confirmed the claimant’s dismissal without notice by letter, citing urinating in a public space as the reason.  The claimant appealed against the decision and a hearing was unsuccessful.

Giving evidence to the tribunal, the claimant said he had been driving for about 25 minutes and “urgently felt the need to urinate”. The tribunal heard that “to avoid urinating on himself and/or in the [Royal Mail] van, he had to quickly find somewhere discreet on the dual carriageway to urinate”.

The tribunal also heard evidence from several other postal workers who had been caught urinating in public while on duty and not dismissed. One told the tribunal that “postmen urinate in public all the time”, while another said: “There was not a post person alive, man or woman, who had been doing the job for a length of time who had not been caught short without access to facilities and had to urinate in public.”

The judge concluded there was “more than one reason” for the dismissal, and that, while his conduct “started the disciplinary process”, the beliefs held by the line manager that caused her to dismiss him “related predominately to his poor relationship with the line manager and therefore to the claimant’s trade union activities”.

A remedy judgment awarded Rawal £37,720.98 in respect of his successful unfair dismissal claim, which comprises a basic award of £8,068.50 and a compensatory award of £29,652.48.

This is yet another reminder that a balanced decision needs to be made following a detailed investigation as to whether there is likely to be a detrimental effect to the business’s reputation and that any decision must be consistent with other similar situations. 

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