Anyone reading the newspaper reports about the recent tribunal claim of Jak Priest against Car Perfection Carcare, under headlines such as “car technician who complained about faulty lavatory wins £32,000 for unfair dismissal” (Daily Telegraph), might reflect humorously that the result would have left his former bosses flushed with anger, having had to spend more than a penny upon an outcome that would have been enough to drive any employer round the bend, with convenience being conspicuous only by its absence. However, there was a deeper underlying point that merits paying a visit. 
In the course of one single day in February 2021, the local council followed up Mr Priest’s health & safety complaint and visited the works to inspect the faulty toilet; his boss called a “phones off” meeting to find out who had blown the whistle; an altercation took place, the tribunal subsequently finding that the directors had been aggressive to Mr Priest, telling him “not to bother coming back as he was sacked”, although they followed this up moments later with “you haven’t been sacked, you are walking”; and Mr Priest contacted ACAS to initiate early conciliation, ultimately to no avail. 
What, then, went wrong, and served to leave the company with a £32,000 damages award for automatically unfair dismissal – founded upon the health and safety complaint – when the case came on for trial two years later? 
Perhaps the company simply underestimated the gravity of the complaint, choosing not to be legally represented at the trial. However, there is another clue. On the day after the altercation, one of the directors contacted a helpline legal advice service linked to a company insurance policy. The helpline advice was evidently to send a letter challenging Mr Priest about his “unauthorised absence” and to ask if he intended to return to work. Mr Priest then received no response to his reply, in which he pointed out his understanding that he had been dismissed. 
The company may have been at fault for not telling the helpline the whole story. Equally, the helpline may have omitted to ask wider pertinent questions that could have led to a better recommendation, and thereby have avoided the tribunal claim altogether. It was no lost on the tribunal that ordinary text message communications between the directors and Mr Priest simply dried up. Any genuine doubt about Mr Priest’s employment status could have been resolved almost straight away via text messages, or indeed a home visit, after any suitable cooling off period. An artificial formal letter almost a week later evidently made matters worse. 
Were the other options overlooked because of “help” line advice from a subscription service that proved to be no help at all? 
Do you have a workplace dispute brewing? Don’t risk it causing needless discomfort. Be careful about relying upon helpline subscription services that may only give minimalist advice and fail to ask all the right questions. Speak to a specialist solicitor now. Contact David Cooper on 0121 325 5402 or via . 
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