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After raising concern over driver safety time, researcher is unfairly dismissed

A Christian Charity dismissed a senior employee after he raised health and safety concerns about drive times on work trips. An employment tribunal found him to have been unfairly dismissed.

Dr Parsons, working as head of research and director of studies with Barnabas Fund told the tribunal that he had been victimised and later dismissed after he made protected disclosures.

After expressing his concerns about the time spent driving on a speaking tour in September 2018, Dr Parsons said that he was called ‘manipulative and a snake’ by Dr Sookhdeo, the co-founder of the charity. The co-founder also refused to speak to Dr Parsons for four months after he had complained.

Dr Parsons and his colleagues were asked to drive from Wiltshire to Lancashire to give a speech at a meeting. The meeting was scheduled to take place in the evening which meant that they would return to Wiltshire in the early morning.

The following day they were expected to drive to Exeter and return to Wiltshire at midnight.

After he raised his concerns about the travel times, chief executive Mr Storm agreed that the group should stay in the hotel although he later reversed his decision.

Prior to the trip to Lancashire Dr Parsons emailed Storm and several other colleagues to say that there were serious health and safety issues with the request.

It was a 16-hour journey, and they would arrive back at 2.30am at the earliest. The following night they would arrive back at around midnight.

Dr Parson’s email stated that there are legal limits for working and driving. These are 11 hours maximum in any day for professional drivers and they apply whether the person is driving or working.

If they ignored that limit and had an accident, Health and Safety would treat if very seriously, said Dr Parsons.

After Storm had reversed his decision for the group to stay at the hotel Dr Parsons had no option but to raise a formal health and safety concern.

Just fifteen minutes after sending the email, Dr Sookhdeo began to accuse Dr Parsons of forcing him to obey his instructions when he issued his formal concern.

Dr parsons stated that he had raised the concern to comply with the Health and Safety Work Act, to which Dr Sookhdeo replied that both he and other workers were entitled to ignore it if they chose to.

After calling Dr Parsons manipulative and a snake Dr Sookhdeo went on to threaten him with dismissal if he raised concerns with regulators.

Dr Sookhdeo went further by removing Dr Parsons from the tour and excluding him from key meetings. He also ignored him continually for several months, not responding to greetings in the mornings.

Urged to apologise

During a meeting with senior figures Dr Parsons was urged to apologise, as his email to Dr Sookhdeo may have been viewed as ‘witness intimidation.’ He was also asked whether he regretted his actions. Dr Parson replied that employees had a responsibility to raise such concerns.

The organisation later suspended Dr Parsons, claiming he had breached the policy about external communications. He was later dismissed from the company.

At the hearing, the company claimed that their main factor in dismissing Dr Parsons was not health and safety. The tribunal ruled this to be a contradiction after reading the letter which Dr Parsons received.

Judge James Bax ruled that “The effect of the health and safety concern was inextricably linked to the reason for the respondent terminating the claimant’s employment. The Respondent was unable to detach that major factor from its decision.”

Considering that the significant part of the decision was that the claimant had made a protected disclosure, a reasonable employer would not have dismissed the claimant.

Barnabas Fund is appealing the tribunal decision.

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