Former Johnson Matthey employees entitled to compensation – Supreme Court rules for employees

After being dismissed for developing a sensitivity to platinum salts, the Supreme Court has rules that three employees of chemical company Johnson Matthey should be compensated.

The three employees were dismissed by Johnson Matthey on medical grounds. This landmark ruling opens the door for employees being entitled to compensation if the company’s negligence is the cause of physiological changes in the body. These changes may be symptomless and still have resulted in the loss of the job.

The former three employees worked in the department making catalytic convertors. The company was negligent in ensuring that the factories in Royston and Brimsdown were properly cleaned, resulting in the workers being exposed to platinum salts. The exposure led them to develop a sensitivity to the chemical.

While the condition is known to be symptomless, additional exposure to chlorinated platinum salts may cause an allergic reaction, along with irritation to chest, eyes, and skin.

After the condition of the three men had been noted, Johnson Matthey dismissed them from their positions in the factory. The men were offered a choice between alternative roles with reduced wages, or termination of their employment, both decisions having an adverse effect on their financial situations.

Both the High Court and the Court of Appeal dismissed the case stating that the men could not claim compensation because the sensitivity had not yet developed into an allergic reaction. Therefore, the claim was not ‘actionable’ against Johnson Matthey.

Johnson Matthey stated that because the three employees had been removed from the exposure, they would never suffer allergic reactions. They would never again be in contact with the chemicals.

The case was brought before the Supreme Court where the Court Judges ruled unanimously that the men could make a claim as the sensitivity was without a doubt, harmful.

The judgement stated that what had happened to the claimants was the capacity for the body to work at full potential, having been impaired by the chemicals. They were therefore significantly worse off. Not only had the men suffered ‘actionable bodily damage’ but the effect on their lives was significant.

Solicitor at Leigh day, Harminder Bains, who represented the men, stated that the decision would have far-reaching effects on the law regarding personal injury.

The three former employees will now return to the High Court and proceed to a trial to negotiate how much their lost wages and other benefits are worth.

Bains concluded by saying that this should be a warning to all employers. They cannot simply avoid health and safety issues and responsibilities to their employees. Cutting corners and exposing staff to hazardous working condition is not acceptable.

Johnson Matthey issued a statement saying that their priority is always to protect the health and wellbeing of employees. They would continue to review their procedures to ensure that this stays the case.

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