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Discrimination against trade union members causes confusion in employment tribunals

View profile for Howard Robson
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To mark the start of #Heartunions week, we look at the precautions an employer must take when dealing with an employee involved in union activity. Trade unions play a very important role in many workplaces, often campaigning for better working conditions and employee rights, and offer staff opportunities to get involved in workplace politics. An employer must be careful to respect the rights of an employee to become a member of a trade union, and not penalise them for their activities.

Howard Robson, Partner in the Employment team, says: “While we all respect the need for, and function of trade unions within the workplace, it is important to remember that the activity that members carry out should bear no impact on making employment-based decisions.”

A recent Employment Tribunal (ET) case concerned a university that dismissed an employee who was a member of a trade union, by reason of redundancy. The employee in question was critical of the redundancy exercise in which several posts were dispensed with, including her own. She claimed that she had stood a good chance of being appointed to the newly created position of team leader until that role was itself withdrawn, and she was ultimately selected for redundancy.  The employee contended that she had been dismissed by reason of her trade union activities.

The ET found that the employee had been subjected to detrimental treatment by reason of her trade union activities and consequently her dismissal was automatically unfair within the meaning of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

In allowing the university’s appeal against that ruling, however, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) found that the ET’s reasoning was flawed. The ET had rejected the university’s explanation for the employee’s dismissal, and had wrongly assumed that she had been penalised for her trade union activities.  The EAT found that the ET should have properly established the real reason for the dismissal, rather than accepting the employee’s explanation as the only option. The unfair dismissal claim was sent back for rehearing by a freshly constituted ET.

For more information on employment law and how to handle trade union issues, please contact the Warner Goodman employment team on 02380 717717.


This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.