A furloughed couple were ‘unfairly’ dismissed – after being made redundant in the first coronavirus lockdown.
Lorry driver David Pointon and sales administrator Jessica Thursfield took kitchen appliance supplier Swift Electrical Wholesalers to an employment tribunal after being made redundant.
Two other axed employees from the company, which is based on an industrial complex in Fenton, near Stoke-on-Trent, were also included in the case heard at Birmingham County Court.
Now a judge has ruled that all four employees were ‘unfairly’ dismissed – with three of them sharing £8,000 compensation.
David says he and Jessica were both made redundant just two months after being furloughed in 2020.
The 50-year-old says agency workers were hired just a week later.
David, who had worked for the company for 15 years, said: ‘At the time of being furloughed the Government is giving you 80 per cent of your money.
Lorry driver David Pointon and sales administrator Jessica Thursfield (pictured) took Fenton-based kitchen appliance supplier Swift Electrical Wholesalers to an employment tribunal after being made redundant
‘But in my house, it was myself and my partner so we were losing 40 per cent of our income collectively.
‘It was difficult and uncertain because you didn’t know what was going to happen but you did feel like your job was safe. It was due to the coronavirus pandemic that we got furloughed.
‘We got letters in the post saying we were up for redundancy. I was shocked because I had never had a day off sick since I’d been there, I’d had no time off, and had a good record with the customers.
‘In my opinion, the scoring systems used to get rid of people were unfair.’
The tribunal heard that the company, which provides national trade distribution service to kitchen studios, electrical appliance retailers, and builders merchants ‘essentially’ had new owners from March 2019.
During 2019 and into early 2020, the tribunal heard the management was looking at the business with a view to making efficiency savings, particularly in light of the March 2020 Covid lockdown.
The tribunal heard by May that year, 45 out of the company’s 61 employees had been put on furlough, including Mr Pointon and his partner.
According to the tribunal, it was at this point that management had decided redundancies were ‘necessary’ and at risk staff were informed via a letter in June that the company was considering cut backs.
Employment Judge Christopher Camp, in his ruling, wrote: ‘(These) letters were a little disingenuous, in that it is clear from the respondent’s own evidence that by the time these letters were written, redundancies were not merely a possibility – specific numbers of redundancies in specific areas had been planned.’
The company then held face-to-face meetings with three of the tribunal claimants, while Mr Pointon had a telephone interview, in management discussed redundancies with staff – including a scoring system to inform the selection process.
According to the tribunal, the scoring system included areas such as length of service, disciplinary record and approach to customer service.
After the scoring process, the four staff were among those selected for redundancy.
In his judgment, Judge Camp said the company had in the case of one of the claimants ‘unnecessarily rushed’ the warning of a possibility to notification within three working days.
He also criticised the ‘lack of any real or any adequate consultation’ over the redundancy scoring system with employees, as well as the ‘apparent absence’ of consideration of voluntary redundancies or of furlough or of job-sharing as an alternative to redundancy.
‘In my view, these factors by themselves make these dismissals unfair,’ said Judge Camp.
Jessica was not eligible for compensation, despite being ‘unfairly dismissed’, because the judge ruled she would have likely been made redundant even if fair process was followed.
Determined David, from Berryhill, has since described the court ruling as ‘brilliant and fantastic’. He now works at JCB.
He added: ‘I decided, on behalf of myself and the other three people including my partner, to take it to a tribunal for unfair dismissal.
‘We saw it as a culling. We couldn’t afford any expensive solicitors for the tribunal so I took it upon myself.
‘The outcome was brilliant and fantastic. I put a lot of work in. We got compensation judging on the situation.
‘Due to Covid it gets reduced to 40 per cent. We got paid out and I bought myself a number plate for my car.
‘We were over the moon. At the end of the day it wasn’t about the money, it was about proving a point.’
The couple both worked at kitchen appliance supplier Swift Electrical Wholesalers (pictured) which is based
David told Stoke-on-Trent Live: ‘It wouldn’t surprise me if there are hundreds of people up and down the country in the same situation and I say ‘don’t be afraid’.
‘If you think you have been mistreated then get onto ACAS straight away. You will need an ACAS reference number to carry on with the case. Take the company to a tribunal.
‘There were times – we got a letter saying we might end up with £25,000 court fees – when we were thinking how would we be able to pay that? But we believed we were right, put our faith in the justice system, and prevailed.’
Swift Electrical Wholesalers has declined to comment on the case when approached by Stoke-on-Trent Live.