S.47B of the Employment Rights Act 1996

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Tribunal under duty to consider stigma future loss claim in whistleblowing claim

In Small v Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals NHS Trust, the Court of Appeal has held that an employment tribunal ought to have considered whether to award compensation for long-term loss of earnings to a claimant whose employment was terminated because he had made a protected disclosure, even though the claimant, a litigant in person, did not expressly advance such a claim. In the Court’s view, given that the tribunal had acknowledged that the consequences of the termination were ‘career-ending’ for the claimant, it should have recognised and raised the issue itself.

S began working for the Trust in May 2012 at the age of 56. He was engaged through an agency on a temporary assignment but understood that there was a prospect of full-time employment in due course. However, two months later the Trust terminated his engagement. S successfully argued before an employment tribunal that the reason for the termination was that he had made a protected disclosure and the tribunal found that the termination constituted an unlawful detriment under S.47B of the Employment Rights Act 1996. At the remedy hearing, S, who was unrepresented, claimed compensation for, among other things, loss of earnings up to his anticipated date of retirement in 2022. This was on the basis that a permanent appointment would have followed but for the unlawful termination. S also put in evidence to show that, since his dismissal, he had been unable to obtain work in the same field despite numerous applications. He asserted that his search for employment had been hampered by the fact that he was dismissed and by the lack of a reference from the Trust.

The employment tribunal awarded compensation of £54,126, including £33,976 for loss of earnings. It calculated loss of earnings on the basis that S would not have been given the permanent employment which he said he had been led to expect but that he would have been retained until November 2013. The tribunal made no award for loss of earnings beyond that point. However, in its reasoning on injury to feelings it observed that S’s career was dependent on the outcome of his last job, that the lack of a reference was indeed a hindrance and that the termination had been ‘career-ending’. S appealed to the EAT, where he had the benefit of representation by counsel for the first time. He argued that the tribunal should have awarded loss of earnings beyond November 2013 on the basis of the Court of Appeal’s decision in Chagger v Abbey National plc (Brief 893), where the Court held that, in principle, a claimant can recover for loss of earnings beyond the date on which employment would have otherwise terminated and can, in principle, claim for the ‘stigma’ that he or she suffers in the labour market. The EAT dismissed the appeal. While it accepted that there are some principles that are so well established that a tribunal might be expected to consider them as a ‘matter of course’, it could not accept that the Chagger basis of claim was in this category. S appealed to the Court of Appeal.

The Court allowed the appeal, holding that, in the particular circumstances of the case, the tribunal ought to have considered whether S had a claim in respect of his loss after November 2013, which would, in principle, include a stigma claim. Lord Justice Underhill, giving the only judgment, pointed out that S’s evidence to the tribunal made clear that he was suffering a loss extending into the indefinite, and probably long-term, future, and that the tribunal had itself recognised the ‘career-ending’ consequences of the termination for S. Although a Chagger claim will not always be a ‘matter of course’, it was so in the particular circumstances of the present case. Underhill LJ rejected the Trust’s argument that, because S had put his claim for future loss on the basis of long-term permanent employment with the Trust, the tribunal was under no obligation to formulate a different future loss claim and consider that. The Chagger claim was an obvious alternative or fallback to the very specific and rather ambitious claim that S was advancing. He should not be regarded as having given up the right to have that alternative considered by the tribunal simply because both types of claim could be labelled as ‘future loss’.

Link to transcript: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2017/882.html