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A Jaguar Land Rover worker who was absent for 808 shifts in 20 years last month won his legal case over unfair dismissal.
Birmingham employment tribunal heard that Vic Rumbold, who lived close to the Castle Bromwich plant where he worked, had cost the vehicle manufacturer £95,850 in sick pay.
Employment judge Johnson decided that Mr Rumbold’s complaint of unfair dismissal was well founded but rejected his complaint of discrimination arising from a disability. However, a complaint of discrimination arising from Jaguar Land Rover’s failure to make reasonable adjustments was successful.
The judge took the view that the employer had not followed their own procedures regarding Mr Rumbold’s absences and so “when they decided to dismiss the claimant, this was not a sanction which fell within the range of reasonable responses available to them”.
Mr Rumbold worked for the company from 1 February 1999 until his dismissal on 7 December 2018. He presented his claim against the firm on 9 April 2019, following a period of early conciliation earlier that year.
During most years, the court heard, his absences reached double figures. Some absences related to injuries at work and general health issues but there was also an allegation of assault against him was made in 2014. However, it was only in 2018 – when Mr Rumbold had begun experiencing chronic hip pain – that Jaguar Land Rover subjected the employee to formal measures under the attendance management procedure (AMP). The judge noted that it appeared that until 2018, the claimant was unaware that his absence was a problem.
The hip pain, which was diagnosed as avascular necrosis disease was so bad that Mr Rumbold was unable to work from 12 March to 13 August of that year.
A hip replacement operation was required which would have put Mr Rumbold out of action for a further 12 weeks.
Jaguar Land Rover responded by offering Mr Rumbold, who had worked on a car assembly line, a number of trials for alternative roles.
None of these roles proved successful. The final role offered was that of “sealer” at the end of the paint line. Mr Rumbold said he struggled with it because it meant walking around each car four times, which was more difficult for him than it should have been because he said he had been barred from using his walking stick for fear of damaging bodywork. The first day of that new job left him in agony, the tribunal was told.
In December 2018 at an employment review, the relevant manager told Mr Rumbold, as revealed in the minutes: “When we look at your enthusiasm to come back, it is not there.
“The business is in a bad condition at the moment and the financial situation, diesel scares, Brexit, have caused a great volume loss to the plant and all plants.
“Every person and every penny makes a difference. You were missing or late for 11 occupational health appointments. I deem that as unacceptable.
“Level of absence (over the) last 18 years costing around 100K. We need to consider conduct, absence and evidence of enthusiasm to return. We have the potential for future absence following your operation.
“I believe this to be unacceptable to the organisation. My decision is to terminate your employment on grounds of conduct and capability which is shown in your attendance record.”
However, Judge Johnson, in his report, concluded JLR did not properly apply attendance management procedures and “had not reasonably reached a stage under that process where they could consider dismissal”.
He added: “At best, had the AMP been applied properly they would have reached a stage where the claimant could have been issued with counselling or a warning concerning his absences and the need for improvement to avoid further sanction.
Mr Rumbold, the judge ruled, should have been allowed to complete his trial as a seater and consideration should’ve been given to a doctor’s note. The note stated he could be fit for work if provided with a walking aid and appropriate seating.
Compensation has yet to be decided. The case’s hearings took place in September 2020 with the decision being published on 14 December.
In October last year, Jaguar Land Rover was involved in another high-profile employment tribunal case when a landmark judgment determined that the protected characteristic gender reassignment under the Equality Act 2010 included protection for non-binary individuals.