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Energy giant fined as HR process likened to show trial in Soviet Union

Posted: 15th May 2019   In: Business Employment, Individual Employment

A tribunal has held that Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) was wrong to dismiss an employee who raised questions about health and safety practices. The judge likened its HR process to “a show trial in the former Soviet Union”.

The case involved energy trader Donald Nutt who was employed by SSE for 16 years.

After attending a corporate initiative encouraging health and safety, Mr Nutt raised concerns that the company’s night shift structure could be detrimental to workers’ health. 

He came to “genuinely believe” that SSE was in breach of its obligation under health and safety legislation to provide free health checks.

He raised a grievance but was told the company “ticked all the boxes” in regard to employee health and safety.

Mr Nutt was accused of being incapable of receiving criticism and refusing to accept the company’s findings.

In an email to his line manager, Mr Nutt wrote: “I’m worried you think I’m being awkward. I’m not. I’ve even heard a rumour that I’m going to be taken off night shifts. Is this really what happens when people raise H&S issues? I don’t think I’ll bother next time as it’s seriously a bad career move.”

Despite always scoring highly in appraisals throughout his time with SSE, Mr Nutt received a poor report and was told he would be given an informal warning.

He was signed off work for two months. When he returned, HR decided to take disciplinary action and dismissed him.

The Employment Tribunal heard that SSE had not only wanted Mr Nutt to accept he had been wrong, but to be grateful towards it for the way it had treated him. There had been no investigation into the grievances raised by Mr Nutt, and there had been no justifiable reasons for his dismissal.

Judge McFatridge commented: “This is somewhat reminiscent of a show trial in the former Soviet Union rather than modern employment relations practice."

SSE were ordered to rehire Mr Nutt, but refused, so his award was increased from £140,000 to £230,000.

Please contact Jackie Cuneen if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article, or any aspect of employment law.






Posted by: Jackie Cuneen
Luton Office