Court awards British Airways worker £19,000 for dismissal without fair warning
A former British Airways (BA) logistics agent has won an unfair dismissal claim at an Employment Tribunal and been awarded more than £19,000 after he was let go by the company following an eye infection.
Mohinda Sandha had spent more than two decades working for BA before he was dismissed on 10 March 2016.
As a logistics agent, his job role included driving duties in the vicinity of aircrafts, which is why BA took the decision to dismiss him when it found out he was unable to do the role following back, knee and eye injuries.
The injuries to knee and back where sustained at work in December 2014 and Mr Sandha was signed off until 15 January 2015.
On 15 January 2015, he was sent a letter that proposed he attend a meeting on 26 January 2015 to discuss his sickness absence. The letter said that BA would support him back to work within a “reasonable” period, and may consider termination of his employment “as a last resort.”
BA’s occupational health service advised BA that Mr Sandha was fit to return to work from 17 February 2015 and after his return, a further meeting took place that decided he would remain at work.
Mr Sandha then had his internal review transferred to people services manager Ms Dhaliwal around July 2015. As Mr Sandha was unable to attend a meeting due to being abroad.
Having returned from holiday he informed BA that he had an eye infection, which meant he was unable to conduct driving duties. As a result, he was signed off sick once more and referred to occupational health.
In a further conversation with Ms Dhaliwa in November 2015, he said that one of his eyes was “blurry” and later told BA’s occupational health team that he could not drive at night, but the team concluded he was fit to return with no adjustments.
Mr Sandha saw a doctor at Moorfields Eye Hospital, who confirmed that it was legal for him to drive and safe for him to return to work as long as he avoided night driving until the glare ceased.
He drove to work in the dark that same day, but when he was almost involved in an accident, he informed management and left work.
An additional review took place with a trade union representative and during the meeting, Mr Sandha was not informed that dismissal was a possible result of this meeting and the union representative suggested that BA could look for alternative duties for Mr Sandha.
However, on 23 December 2015, Mr Sandha was dismissed via a letter from Ms Dhaliwal. It stated that he had taken 106 sick days since 2010 and that: “Given that [occupational health] declared you fit for all duties, yet you have remained off sick, I do not believe there are any changes that could be made that would significantly improve your attendance in either your current job or a different role.”
Mr Sandha appealed the decision to dismiss him and a meeting was held on 1 March 2016, presided over by BA’s World Cargo department general manager Matthew Burton.
His union submitted to BA Mr Sandha’s medical certificate, which said he could return to work if he could be taken off driving duties. The appeal was dismissed because Mr Sandha’s absence record was “unacceptable and unsustainable.”
Upset with the outcome, Mr Sandha brought a claim to Tribunal on 27 July 2016. During the Tribunal, Judge Bloc said: “I concluded that whilst conduct and capability were running in parallel as reasons for the dismissal, in this case, the respondent has shown that the principal reason for the dismissal was capability […]. However, the respondent did not act reasonably in treating that reason as a sufficient reason for dismissal.”
Mr Bloc also found “no proper consideration” of Sandha only driving during daylight, or taking on an alternative role or duties. He said: “This was the ‘elephant in the room’, with both Dhaliwal and Burton seeming to ignore it.”
However, he added that Mr Sandha’s actions showed significant culpability, including the delay in disclosing the medical certificate and the hospital letter, and “resistance” towards alternative duties.
The Tribunal awarded Mr Sandha £19,074.88, composed of a £10,687.50 basic award, a compensatory award of £17,510.50, and £400 for his loss of statutory rights. This amount was subject to a 33 per cent deduction as a result of Mr Sandha’s conduct.
A BA spokesperson said: “We are disappointed with the decision and believe we have acted reasonably throughout. We are considering whether an appeal is appropriate.”