A firefighter, sacked after he emailed co-workers asking if any of them had suffered back pain, has won £80,000 for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination.
Christopher Bennett, 46, who suffers from arthritis of the spine, worked for the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service for more than 25 years. He started suffering from back problems after the Service controversially replaced beds at the fire station he worked at with reclining chairs.
Sleeping on the recliners became so uncomfortable that Mr Bennett made a request under the Disability Discrimination Act to go back to using a bed. His superiors were unsympathetic, however, and told him that he could not.
Mr Bennett then emailed his colleagues to ask if they too were struggling with back pain. The Service found out and promptly fired him for gross misconduct.
Outraged by the decision, he consulted the Fire Brigades Union for advice and decided to take legal action. The support of the union proved crucial as he secured a £80,000 out-of-court settlement.
Mr Bennett said: "Without the support of the FBU I would not have been able to get justice." While Fire Brigades Union official Steve Shelton said: "I always knew that Chris had been treated unfairly ... To lose his job for speaking out about his concerns for safety was a sanction too far."
Greater Manchester Fire Service, however, expressed "extreme disappointment" with the outcome. "We demand the highest standards of behaviour from our entire staff," said a spokesperson.
"Mr Bennett's actions fell far below those standards when he ignored the email policy and advice from both his line manager and his union representative.
"We also believe that by soliciting support against the service Mr Bennett irreparably broke an employer's trust, hence our decision not to reinstate Mr Bennett."
- Employment rights and the Disability Discrimination Act (Learn About the Law)
- Workplace accidents and injuries (Learn About the Law)
- Employment law blog (The Solicitor)
- Fireman wins £80,000 after being sacked for asking colleagues if brigade's reclining chairs hurt their backs (Daily Mail)
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