BA engineer wins Employment Tribunal unfair dismissal claim

MoJAn aircraft engineer has won his claim for unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal after he was dismissed on allegations of incompetence.

Mr John Higgins, an aircraft engineer at British Airways, was dismissed last year after he installed the wrong part on a plane at British Airways Maintenance Glasgow.

Mr Higgins, who had worked for the firm for 27 years prior to being fired, appealed internally against his dismissal as he believed the sanction of dismissal was too harsh, that he had had 27 years’ unblemished service with the firm, and British Airways had recorded the error as having little to no risk to the safety of the plane. However, although Mr Higgins’ appeal was upheld, British Airways would only agree to reinstate him as a mechanic, a position several grades lower than his position as an engineer – if he had accepted this demotion then this would have meant that he would have lost his status as a licenced aircraft engineer. He therefore resigned from the firm.

After resigning from British Airways, Mr Higgins made various claims to the Employment Tribunal, including claims for constructive unfair dismissal and ‘whistleblowing’.

The case came before the Employment Tribunal earlier this year, with Mr Higgins giving evidence that he believed that he had been unfairly dismissed and that he thought that British Airways had subjected him to detriments in the workplace because he had ‘blown the whistle’ on workplace practices.

The Employment Tribunal found in Mr Higgins’ favour in his claim for constructive unfair dismissal, finding that British Airway’s behaviour towards him had breached the implied term of mutual trust and confidence in his contract with the firm. However, the Employment Tribunal rejected his claim for ‘whistleblowing’, holding that Mr Higgins could not show a causal link between British Airways’ behaviour and the alleged ‘protected disclosures’ that he had made.

A BA spokeswoman commented after the decision of the Employment Tribunal: “We are pleased that the whistleblowing claims were not upheld, but we are disappointed with the outcome of the tribunal. We feel we acted fairly and properly throughout and await a full written decision. We will then decide if an appeal is appropriate.”

Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: