Unite member spied on by employers while off sick wins employment tribunal

A Unite member who was spied on by his employer while off sick has been successful at an employment tribunal.

Alan Jones from Merseyside was employed as a team leader at Pilkington, a glass manufacturer, when he started to experience shoulder pain as a result of radiotherapy treatment he had for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma over 20 years before.

He was diagnosed with Radiation Induced Neuropathy in 2006, meaning he had weakness in his right arm and extreme sensitivity, and a slight touch could cause him pain. As a result of this, Mr Jones developed mental health issues, and he took sick leave in November 2018.

One day, while on sick leave, a Pilkington colleague reported to management that Mr Jones was in a local shop wearing work boots. Instead of approaching Mr Jones to question him, his employer hired a private surveillance company to keep an eye on his whereabouts.

What the surveillance company found, after following him several days, was that Mr Jones was visiting a local farm, resulting in him being sacked from his job without notice at a meeting multiple weeks later.

In fact, Mr Jones was recommended by the therapeutic service offered to him by his GP to visit the community farm in an attempt to manage his mental health issues.

The 55-year-old Unite member said: “I am still in disbelief that after 36 years, rather than speak to me, my employer went to these lengths to try and catch me out.

“What they thought was manual labour was, in fact, just me passing a hose pipe to my friend, who was watering flowers for my daughter’s wedding.

“I’m so glad to have had Unite Legal Services on my side. Without them and their support I wouldn’t have had the confidence or the energy to bring this challenge.”

The tribunal ruled that a more nuanced and measured approach should have been considered by Pilkington before taking such extreme measures. They found that Mr Jones had been unfairly dismissed, as well as subject to discrimination and breach of contract. A separate hearing will be held to ascertain how much compensation he should receive.

Ritchie James, North West regional secretary at Unite the Union, added: “We’re proud to have fought Mr Jones’s corner and helped him stand up to his employers. Monitoring and surveillance not only undermines workers’ rights to privacy, it can also create high levels of stress and anxiety leading to ill health and poor performance. Alan’s story is a case in point.

“This, yet again, shows the value of trade union membership in fighting for workers’ rights when employers are acting out of line.”