The firing of an employee who used text messages to call in sick after his brother's death was unfair, an Edinburgh employment tribunal has ruled. An employment law specialist said the case sends a warning to bosses to enforce policies consistently.
The East Lothian Courier reports that Mark Morrison worked as a sales adviser for tile shop Tile It All. When his brother died last December, Morrison sent a text message to his manager, Robert Selley, to inform him. He subsequently sent a text to say he would be off sick until after the funeral.
Morrison claims that Selley phoned and told him to bring a doctor's certificate with him on his return to work. That claim was denied by Selley. Morrison also claims that no comment was made when he returned to work and handed in his sick line, according to the newspaper.
Four days later, Morrison stayed home again. He sent text messages to his employer on five consecutive days to say that he was depressed and not coming to work.
Morrison's employer summoned him to a disciplinary hearing and subsequently dismissed him for failing to follow company procedures for reporting absences. The policy stated that absences should be notified by phone calls or sick lines sent in, according to the report.
The tribunal deemed the dismissal unfair. When Morrison returned to work after his bereavement, he was not warned about his use of text messages; but when he did the same thing a few days later, he was disciplined.
Tribunal chair Susan O'Brien said: "The company's complaint that text messages were not acceptable was petty, and in any event the tribunal did not believe that the claimant had been told he must not notify absence by way of text messages. Throughout these events, the local manager and Mr Selley were perfectly well aware of the reason for the claimant's absence. A modicum of common sense could have straightened all this out."
Morrison was awarded compensation of £6,977.
Ben Doherty, an employment law specialist with Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, said the tribunal was right to criticise the employer's decision not to accept notification by text message.
"Accepting notification by text one week and refusing it the next is asking for trouble. This serves as a useful reminder to employers of the importance of adopting a consistent approach to breaches of employment policies and incidents of misconduct," said Doherty.
"They cannot be seen to condone actions one day and take disciplinary action the next. Employers also have to remember that they can't cherry pick which employees they want to discipline and which ones they'll choose to overlook for the same behaviour," he said.
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