An employment tribunal has granted interim relief to an employee claiming unfair dismissal, on the grounds that he used a trade union to lodge a grievance about measures put in place by his employer during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

What Is Interim Relief?

Where an employee is bringing an unfair dismissal claim, a tribunal can, in some limited circumstances, make an order preserving employment pending determination of the claim. These orders, known as 'interim relief', can only be granted where the claim is for automatic unfair dismissal on the grounds of:

  • union membership or activity;
  • making a protected disclosure; or
  • engaging in activities as a workplace representative such as a health and safety representative or pension scheme trustee.

If the tribunal considers that the claimant is 'likely' to establish at the full hearing that one of the grounds above was the reason or principal reason for dismissal, it may make an interim relief order.

Morales v Premier Fruits (Covent Garden) Ltd

In March 2020, following a downturn in business as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Premier Fruits (Covent Garden) Ltd proposed that all staff take a 25% pay cut and one week's paid leave per month. In May 2020, a trade union called United Voices of the World lodged a grievance on behalf of an employee, Mr Morales, complaining the wage reductions had caused him detriment and the health and safety of staff was being endangered by a lack of PPE.

In a meeting called to discuss the trade union's involvement, a manager of Premier Fruit was recorded showing hostility to the trade union, stating "I will not be dictated to by a union" and "if they are not careful they will ruin the country." Mr Morales was dismissed for refusing to consent to the wage reduction on conclusion of the grievance process.

Mr Morales brought claims of unfair dismissal on the grounds that he was a member of a trade union and that he had made protected disclosures relating to health and safety. Mr Morales successfully applied for interim relief and the tribunal made an order for his employment to be reinstated. The tribunal granted the application for interim relief on the the basis it was likely Mr Morales would be able to show that he was dismissed as a result of seeking trade union assistance to bring a grievance. However, the tribunal was unable to conclude whether the claim for unfair dismissal on the grounds of making protected disclosures relating to a lack of PPE is likely to succeed and declined to order interim relief on this ground. A full hearing will be required to decide whether Mr Morales would have been dismissed if he had raised the matter of health and safety with Premier Fruits directly rather than via the trade union.

Learning Points

An interim relief application can be a powerful tool for employees who consider they have been dismissed for one of the reasons set out above. An interim relief order can be costly for employers, who may have to continue paying an employee during lengthy litigation (including in respect of the period between dismissal and the interim relief order), pending the final determination of the case.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.