Firefighters have won a discrimination case against a fire and rescue service, having successfully argued that forcing firefighters with disabilities to use annual leave or TOIL when shielding amounted to discrimination. The case is thought to be the first where an employer has discriminated as a result of employees following government health guidance related to Covid.
The decision could have implications for employers and employees in similar situations across the UK.
Firefighters additionally argued that some female firefighters were being discriminated against in a similar way, having been forced to use annual leave and TOIL for additional caring responsibilities during the pandemic. While they were successful in their theoretical argument, the Fire Brigades Union (which brought the case) was unable to prove their case in the context of these specific facts. It is thought that they could appeal against this part of the judgement.
The case was brought by the Fire Brigades Union on behalf of some of its members against the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. Despite the successful ruling from the Employment Tribunal, there has been no sanction on the employer – the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service – and no instruction that they should reinstate the annual leave wrongly removed.
Denise Christie, the Fire Brigade Union’s regional secretary in Scotland, said:
‘In principle we are delighted with this result. It is another example of a trade union fighting and winning for its members. Covid is like any other major burden that falls on society: a disproportionate amount of it often ends up being put on people who are already discriminated against, like women or disabled people. However, we cannot ignore the fact that despite this judgement the tribunal has seen fit to impose no sanction at all on the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. Nor has the Tribunal seen fit to order the fire and rescue service to reinstate the annual leave wrongly removed from our members. This is clearly unjust and we will challenge it with every legal tool at our disposal.’
The case had initially been brought under a collective grievance procedure, where it was not upheld, and nor was an appeal relating to that procedure. The case was then heard in an Employment Tribunal, where this judgement was handed down.
You can read the full judgement of this case here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/6141bfb2d3bf7f05b694d6aa/Mr_M_Cowie___others_v_Scottish_Fire_and_Rescue_-_4105098.2020___Others_-_Final.pdf