Pilkington worker wins wrongful dismissal case after being 'spied on'

A PILKS worker who was spied on by his employer while he was ill has won a wrongful dismissal court.

Alan Jones had worked at glass giant Pilkington for 36 years, starting as an apprentice and working his way up the ladder to become a team leader.

In the 1980s, Mr. Jones was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and successfully underwent radiation therapy. Unfortunately, in 2006 he developed shoulder pain, which turned out to be a side effect of radiation therapy, and was diagnosed with radiation-induced neuropathy.

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With weakness in his right arm and extreme sensitivity, meaning even a light touch causes him pain, Mr Jones suffered from mental health issues – which led to him being on sick leave in November 2018.

While on sick leave, a colleague reported to management that he had seen Mr Jones in work boots.

Rather than approach him and find out what was going on, the company hired a private surveillance company to monitor him for several days.

Footage from the surveillance company showed Mr Jones visiting and helping out at a local farm, and at a meeting a few weeks later he was summarily fired for allegedly working elsewhere.

Mr Jones has worked at Pilkington for 36 years

Father-of-three Mr Jones said: “I am still in disbelief that after all these years, instead of speaking to me, my employer made such an effort to try and get me.

“I’m a long-time union member and shop steward, so I know the rules backwards and would never break health insurance.”

Mr Jones had visited the community farm to manage his mental health issues at the suggestion of the therapeutic service offered to him by his GP.

He added: “Working in a company for 36 years and getting fired for spending time with friends to help my mental health is just disrespectful.

“What they thought was handwork was actually just handing a hose to my friend who is watering flowers for my daughter’s wedding.

“I’m so glad to have Unite the Union and Thompson Solicitors on my side. Without her and her support, I would not have had the confidence or energy to take on this challenge.”

Mr Jones, 55, of St Helens, has brought suits against his employer alleging unfair dismissal, disability discrimination and breach of contract.

The court ruled that Pilkington should have considered a more nuanced and measured approach before taking such extreme measures.

They found that Mr Jones had been unfairly fired and had been the victim of discrimination and breach of contract. The amount of compensation he should receive will be determined in a separate hearing.

Craig Peel, a Thompson Solicitors employment law expert who worked for Mr Jones, said: “To jump to conclusions and assume that your loyal employee of over three decades is taking advantage when they are really doing badly is outrageous.

“Our client had been suffering from mental health issues known to his employer and when spied on he followed the advice given to him to deal with this, however Pilkington chose not to have an open conversation and – there he was completely on the wrong end of the stick – fire him.

“We’re glad we were able to do our part to ensure he gets the compensation he deserves.”

Ritchie James, North West Regional Secretary at Unite the Union, added: “We are proud to have cornered Mr Jones and helped him prevail against his employers. Surveillance and surveillance not only undermine workers’ right to privacy, but can also generate high levels of stress and anxiety, leading to ill health and poor performance. Alan’s story is a case in point.

“This shows once again the value of union membership in the fight for workers’ rights when employers step out of line.”

When asked by the Star about the case, a Pilkington UK spokesman said: “It would be inappropriate for us to comment while this is still ongoing.”