A Merseyside man, who brought complaints of unfair dismissal, disability discrimination and breach of contract against his employer, has been successful at an employment tribunal with the help of Thompsons Solicitors and Unite the union.

Fifty-five-year-old Alan Jones, a father of three from St Helens, dedicated 36 years of his life to his work at Pilkington – a major UK company involved in the production of glass – starting as an apprentice and working up the ladder to become a team leader.

In the 1980s, Mr Jones developed Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and underwent successful radiotherapy treatment. Unfortunately, in 2006, he began to develop shoulder pain, which was found to be a side effect of the radiotherapy drugs and he was diagnosed with Radiation Induced Neuropathy.

Alan Jones, our union employment rights client
Alan Jones, our union employment rights client

Being left with weakness in his right arm and extreme sensitivity, meaning only a slight touch causes him pain, Mr Jones suffered mental health issues – which led to him taking sick leave in November 2018.

While off sick a colleague reported to management that he had seen Mr Jones in work boots, and rather than approach him and find out what was going on, the firm hired a private surveillance company to monitor him for several days.

The footage from the surveillance company showed Mr Jones visiting and helping at a local farm, and in a meeting several weeks later, he was sacked without notice on the basis that he was supposedly working elsewhere.

Mr Jones said: “I am still in disbelief that after all these years rather than speak to me my employer went to these lengths to try and catch me out. I am a long-standing member and steward of a trade union, so I know the rules backwards and I would never break the sickness policy.”

The reality was that Mr Jones was visiting the community farm in a bid to manage his mental health issues at the suggestion of the therapeutic service offered to him by his GP.

He added: “To serve a company for 36 years and get dismissed for spending time with friends to help my mental health is nothing short of disrespectful.

“What they thought was manual labour was, in fact, just me passing a hose pipe to my friend, who was watering flowers for my daughter’s wedding.

“I’m so glad to have had Unite the union and Thompsons Solicitors on my side. Without them and their support I wouldn’t have had the confidence or the energy to bring this challenge.”

The tribunal ruled that a more nuanced and measured approach should have been considered by Pilkington before taking such extreme measures. They found that Mr Jones had been unfairly dismissed, as well as subject to discrimination and breach of contract. A separate hearing will be held to ascertain how much compensation he should receive.

Craig Peel, an employment expert from Thompsons Solicitors who acted for Mr Jones, said: “Jumping to conclusions and assuming your loyal employee of over three decades is taking advantage when he is genuinely unwell, is outrageous.

“Our client had been suffering with mental health issues which were well-known to his employer and when spied on was following the advice he was given to treat that, yet Pilkington chose not to have an open conversation and - having got totally the wrong end of the stick - sacked him.

“We are glad that we have been able to play our part in ensuring that he will receive the compensation he deserves.”

Ritchie James, North West regional secretary at Unite the Union, added: “We’re proud to have fought Mr Jones’s corner and helped him stand up to his employers. Monitoring and surveillance not only undermines workers’ rights to privacy, it can also create high levels of stress and anxiety leading to ill health and poor performance. Alan’s story is a case in point.

“This, yet again, shows the value of trade union membership in fighting for workers’ rights when employers are acting out of line.”