Trade unionists have a vital part to play in many workplaces and employers have to be very careful not to penalise them for their activities. However, in one instance, a university successfully appealed against a decision that it had done just that in the case of a veteran librarian and union branch secretary.
The woman, who had worked for the university for over 20 years, had been critical of a redundancy exercise in which her post and others were deleted. She had a good chance of being appointed to a newly created position as team leader until that post was itself dispensed with. She was ultimately selected for redundancy.
In upholding her complaint, an Employment Tribunal (ET) found that she had been subjected to detrimental treatment by reason of her trade union activities and that her dismissal was thus automatically unfair within the meaning of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.
In allowing the university’s appeal against that ruling, however, the Employment Appeal Tribunal found that the ET’s reasoning was flawed. Having rejected the university’s explanation for the woman’s dismissal – redundancy – the ET had wrongly assumed that she had been penalised for her trade union activities. The ET should have decided what the reason for dismissal actually was rather than accepting the woman’s explanation as the only alternative. Her unfair dismissal claim was sent back for rehearing by a freshly constituted ET.