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Health and safety whistleblowing and unfair dismissal

The Law Centre recently negotiated compensation for a driver who had been dismissed for refusing to drive a lorry that he believed to be unsafe.

As the vehicle's reversing lights, rear spotlight and warning siren were out of order, other road users or pedestrians had no way to know that it was about to reverse. Our client had drawn the danger to his employer's attention. After a near-miss with another vehicle, he had told the employer that he would not drive the vehicle again until it was fixed, as he believed it posed a threat to health and safety and that he would be breaking the law driving it. The employer dismissed him for the stand he had taken, even though another driver nearly had an accident with the lorry involving a pedestrian due to these defects.

As the client had not been employed for a year he could not claim ordinary unfair dismissal, and it appeared that this had been a factor in the employer believing that he could be dismissed easily. However we lodged claims of automatic unfair dismissal on his behalf, which do not require a year's service.

Where an employee is dismissed because s/he has made a report about a health and safety issue or taken certain action to avoid an imminent risk to health and safety, then an automatic unfair dismissal claim can arise. It can also be automatic unfair dismissal where an employee is dismissed because s/he has made a public interest disclosure – 'blown the whistle'- that s/he believes the law is being broken.

Our client managed to get another job fairly quickly, but was very angry at the way his employer had behaved and the attitude that had been taken to his legitimate concerns.

The employers contacted us very quickly after legal proceedings were issued and agreed to compensate our client for his loss (£1,700) and to carry out a full review of their systems for dealing with reporting of health and safety issues.

The protections for health and safety reports and whistleblowers are of vital importance in ensuring that workers feel that they can draw attention to dangerous situations or illegal behaviour.

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