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How the Tribunal Dealt with a COVID-19 Related Dismissal

In the recent case of Morales v Premier Fruits (Covent Garden) Ltd the Tribunal were required to scrutinise the employer’s decision to dismiss an employee for a business decision that was linked to COVID-19.

In this case the employer asked staff to take a 25% pay cut and take one week's unpaid leave a month. Shortly after the proposed pay cut was put forward, Mr Morales trade union, lodged a grievance on his behalf. The grievance complained that the wage reductions had caused him a detriment and that the lack of PPE was endangering staff safety.

Following the conclusion of the grievance process, Mr Morales was dismissed. The reason given by the employer for his dismissal was that he had refused to consent to the proposed reduction in wages.

Mr Morales brought a Tribunal claim for unfair dismissal for being a member of a trade union or making use of trade union services and on grounds that he had made protected disclosures related to health and safety under the Employment Rights Act 1996. At the same time Mr Morales applied for interim relief (an order that the employer continue employing the employee or, if it is unwilling to employ them, to continue paying their salary until the case is determined).

The Tribunal upheld Mr Morales’ unfair dismissal claim and made an order for reinstatement. The Judge found that it was likely that Mr Morales would be able to show that he was dismissed because he had sought the assistance of a trade union to bring a grievance. In support of this, the Tribunal relied upon the facts that the manager in question had shown strong hostility to trade union involvement in the grievance and had dismissed another employee who had recorded a staff meeting called to discuss the union's involvement.  

The Tribunal, however, did not grant interim relief on the basis that Mr Morales’ argument was less persuasive on this issue.

What can Employers Learn From This?

As one of the first cases which has considered an employer’s reaction to the pandemic, this case is helpful to employers to understand how a Tribunal will review an employer’s actions. In particular, this case highlights the scrutiny employers will face when attempting to vary employee’s contracts and the implementation of wage reductions, especially when an employee is refusing to agree to these changes.

The case, also serves as a reminder to employers that whilst an order for interim relief is rare, employers should proceed with caution and not treat an employee unfairly because they decide to join, decide to leave, refuse to leave or refuse to join a trade union.

This bulletin is for general guidance only and should not be used for any other purpose. It does not constitute, and should not be relied upon as, legal advice.

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