hmctsA former aircraft engineer has won a five-figure sum from his former employer after he resigned in 2014 as a result of his employer threatening to demote him.

British Airways were ordered to pay almost £25,000 to Mr John Higgins after he was sacked from his post and then told that he could re-join the company if he would be willing to be demoted to a much junior position.

Mr Higgins, who had 27 years’ service with British Airways Maintenance Glasgow (“BAMG”) prior to being dismissed in 2014, was sacked in March 2014 after it was found that he had installed the wrong part on a plane.

After being sacked from his role Mr Higgins appealed his dismissal on the basis that he was under extreme pressure at the time of the mistake, that he had an excessive workload, that he was being asked to complete tasks in unreasonable timescales, and that the error “did not compromise the safe operation of the aircraft”.

At the appeal stage BAMG offered Mr Higgins that opportunity to return to the business in a demoted post. However, this role was three grades below his position as aircraft maintenance supervisor and attracted half the salary and he therefore rejected it and resigned.

Mr Higgins subsequently pursued claims for constructive unfair dismissal and ‘whistleblowing’ in the Employment Tribunal. The claim came to the Employment Tribunal earlier this year, with Mr Higgins giving evidence in his favour. In his evidence Mr Higgins stated that he was overseeing work on an Airbus A321 on 1 and 2 March last year, at a time when BAMG was short-staffed. He further stated that one of the contractors damaged a wire on the aircraft and Mr Higgins repaired this with a splice, although it turned out to be the wrong splice.

In April 2015 the Employment Tribunal found in Mr Higgins’ favour in respect of his claim for constructive unfair dismissal but rejected his claim for ‘whistleblowing’.

Employment Judge Walker stated in the judgment: “The Tribunal had little difficulty in concluding that demotion of three grades with the associated drop in pay and responsibility was likely to seriously damage the relationship of trust and confidence between the parties. It would be humiliating for the claimant with his length of service and experience to go back to this relatively junior grade and have his supervisory responsibilities removed from him.”

The Employment Tribunal decided that Mr Higgins’ award should be reduced by 50% as a result of his contributory conduct and that he should be awarded £25,000 for his basic and compensatory awards.

Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “Employers should act in a reasonable manner when deciding what disciplinary sanctions to impose on employees – if they go ‘too far’ then (as in this case) they risk the employee resigning and making a claim for constructive unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal. This can result not only in a potentially costly Employment Tribunal award but also – as again in this case – negative publicity.

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