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‘Half a man’ comment – firefighter wins £12k pay-out for unfair dismissal

After calling a short gay colleague ‘half a man’ a firefighter was dismissed by his employer. He was later awarded £12,000 for unfair dismissal.

Philip Staines who worked for the North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service filed a claim for unfair dismissal because of the way in which his employer fired him. He also claimed breach of contract.

In 2020 Mr Staines was dismissed without notice. He had received a final warning in May 2019.

Mr Staines was heard to have used the word ‘bitch’ on several different occasions when talking about a female firefighter. He was informed that if similar misconduct took place within 18 months it would lead to his dismissal.

In July 2019 Mr Staines allegedly commented to a gay colleague ‘How you doing fella, well you’re not a fella, half a fella.’

The colleague said that the comments were offensive, had left him feeling ‘empty.’ He further interpreted then as insults about his sexuality.

When questioned about the incident during an investigation Mr Staines said that his comments had been made about his colleague’s height and had nothing to do with his sexuality.

Mr Staines said, ‘I call him Arthur, Arthur man, half a man..I can’t call him Stumpy or anything else.’ Mr Staines insisted that his comments had been just friendly banter.

Other colleagues also accused Mr Staines of making belittling and inappropriate comments to a female firefighter. One comment was that colleagues had ‘got her well trained.’

An internal investigation was carried out and it was agreed that Mr Staines did not purposely use language which was homophobic. It ruled that his colleagues had interpreted the comments as homophobic and been offended.

The investigation, however, did find that both incidents were in breach of the staff code of conduct. Mr Staines was suspended.

After a significant delay due to the pandemic lockdown Mr Staines was invited to attend a disciplinary hearing in July 2020.

The tribunal ruled that the letter sent to Mr Staines about the disciplinary hearing was not clear about which allegations he was facing regarding the female complainant.

The tribunal was told that the fire service felt that Mr Staines had not shown any self-improvement after the previous warning for inappropriate language. He had also not ‘demonstrated the understanding of dignity at work.’ He was dismissed.

 In August 2020 Mr Staines submitted his appeal against the decision. His appeal did not take place until August 2020 with unclear reasons for the delay.

While the tribunal agreed that Mr Staines’ comments had indeed been inappropriate and warranted a dismissal, the method of dismissal was incorrect. The fire service was not entitled to dismiss Mr Staines without notice.

The tribunal agreed that the delay between Mr Staines’ appeal submission and the date when the hearing took place was unreasonable. It was in breach of the Acas code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures.

Mr Staines was awarded payment from the North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service of £11,538 in lieu of notice. He was also awarded holiday pay of £625.

Mr Staines’ claim for unfair dismissal was dismissed.  

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