Employer Not Responsible for Abuse of Union Activist

A mental health nurse who was subjected to disgraceful abuse by colleagues in the midst of a bitter falling out between rival trade unions has failed to convince the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) that his employer should be held responsible for any disadvantage he suffered (North Essex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust v Bone).

The nurse had taken on the role of representative of a small trade union but had encountered stiff opposition from members of the established union at the hospital where he worked. Amongst other things, he had faced claims that the union was a 'crypto-fascist' organisation; one colleague had described him as 'a bigot' and another had greeted him with the words, 'Hello Adolf'.

He made numerous complaints to his NHS Trust employer that he had been subjected to detriment for taking part in union activities, contrary to the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. Four of those claims were upheld by the Employment Tribunal (ET) on the basis that the Trust had shown 'weak and lamentably ineffective' management in failing to protect him. The Trust appealed against the ET's judgment.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) stated that 'a specific application of the law to the findings' is required on the part of the ET, rather than generalisations. The ET had erred in its approach and reached erroneous conclusions. The EAT found that the source of the nurse's problems was an attempt by members of the established union to ostracise him. No such aim could be attributed to the Trust, which had taken a neutral stance and was only concerned that there should be no impact on his ability to carry out the role for which he was paid.

The Trust's appeal was therefore upheld.

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