Supreme Court deliver judgement in 'landmark' case involving medical dismissal

Court decision means employees may be entitled to compensation if organisation's negligence leads to a symptomless medical condition which results in dismissal.

UK chemicals company Johnson Matthey have been ordered to pay three former employees compensation after they were unfairly dismissed on medical grounds. The court heard how the individuals, who were factory workers in the firms Royston and Brimsdown sites, developed a sensitivity to platinum salts having been exposed to the substance as a result of improper cleaning of the workplace.

A routine skin test originally detected the individual’s condition, once being made aware of this the employer dismissed the individuals from their respective positions in the factories. They then offered them a choice between an alternative role with a reduced rate of pay or the official termination of their employment, both of which would have a detrimental impact to their financial situation. Whilst one of the claimants took up alternative employment the others were dismissed on medical grounds.

The Supreme Court overturned the previous findings of both the High Court and Court of Appeal. Previous courts had originally determined the individuals could not make a claim against their employer as their sensitivity to platinum salts showed no symptoms and was not therefore not deemed “actionable”. However the Supreme Court ruled this exposure impaired the claimant’s bodily capacity to work, causing them to be significantly worse off. Referencing the fact that whilst the individuals showed no symptoms at the time, having developed the sensitivity it is accepted further exposure to platinum salts would risk allergic reactions including irritation to the eyes, chest and skin.

A final decision on the amount of remuneration due to each individual will now be decided by the High Court who will take into account money lost through wages and other benefits. In discussing the ruling the legal team responsible for the claimants rightly declared the result to be a “landmark judgement”.

This represents significant case law for any future incidents in which workers suffer a seemingly symptomless injury due to employer negligence. Similar individuals will now be more encouraged to bring forward cases where they have wrongfully suffered a loss of earnings, benefits or experienced some other disadvantage. When you combine this with the recent removal of tribunal fees organisations should be increasingly vigilant in ensuring adequate health and safety procedures are followed and that the implied duty of care is maintained.

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