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Pilot with anxiety when flying was unfairly dismissed

The Employment Tribunal has held in the case of Guest v FlyBe that a pilot suffering from anxiety related sickness arising from flying was unfairly dismissed.

Background

The Claimant was employed by FlyBe as a pilot for a number of years with a good record before being promoted to fly a larger aircraft.

Shortly after he started flying the larger aircraft, the Claimant started to suffer from air sickness and anxiety and experienced feelings of “impending doom”. The Claimant was signed off work sick.

The Claimant was seen by various medical professionals who concluded that the Claimant could return to flying but with the caveat that there was always a possibility that his condition could deteriorate.

Senior staff at FlyBe took the decision that the Claimant should not be allowed to fly again. However, the Claimant was not made aware of this and obtained a further medical report which stated that he could possibly resume flying subject to medical flight tests.

The Claimant was subsequently invited to a disciplinary meeting where he was dismissed on the grounds of capability. Before the decision to dismiss was made, the disciplinary chair had received an email from the Chief Operating Officer who had made clear that the company was “not in the business of taking risks” and if there was no alternative ground work to offer the Claimant, he should be dismissed.

The Claimant appealed against the decision unsuccessfully. The appeal hearing was heard by a manager who had previously been involved in the process and had also been copied into the email from the Chief Operating Officer.

The Claimant brought a claim for unfair dismissal.

The Law

For a dismissal to be fair, an employer must:

  1. Have a potentially fair reason for dismissal (i.e. conduct, capability, redundancy etc)
  2. Act reasonably as treating the reason as a sufficient reason for dismissal which includes following a fair procedure.

Decision

The Employment Tribunal found that the Claimant had been unfairly dismissed. It held that although FlyBe had a potentially fair reason to dismiss the Claimant (i.e. capability), it had not followed a fair procedure.

The Tribunal found that the procedure followed by FlyBe was flawed due to a number of failings including:

  1. The disciplinary chair had been influenced by the Chief Operating Officer who was the “real decision maker”.
  2. The Claimant had not had the opportunity to address the Chief Operating Officer as he was not aware of his role in the process.
  3. The Chief Operating Officer had not seen all of the medical evidence.
  4. The appeal was heard by someone with prior involvement in the process and was also potentially influenced by the Chief Operating Officer.

FlyBe was ordered to reinstate the Claimant and pay compensation. Although, it was noted that compensation would be significantly reduced due to the likelihood that, had FlyBe followed the correct procedure, the Claimant would have been fairly dismissed.

Comment

This case highlights the importance of following a fair procedure. Even if a decision may seem obvious, failure to follow a proper procedure can render a decision unfair. Employers should not pre-determine any disciplinary decisions and decision makers need to be independent. It is always recommended that appeals are heard by a more senior individual who has not previously been involved in the process wherever possible.

 

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