A firefighter who was sacked after calling a short gay colleague ‘half a man’ has been awarded more than £12,000 because of the way his employer dismissed him.
Philip Staines, a firefighter at the North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, made a claim for breach of contract and unfair dismissal after he was dismissed without notice in 2020.
Staines had been given a final warning in May 2019 after using the word “bitch” in relation to a female firefighter on several occasions, and was told that any similar misconduct within 18 months could lead to dismissal.
However, in July of that year he was alleged to have said to a gay colleague: “How are you doing fella, well you’re not a fella, half a fella.”
The colleague said this incident left him feeling “empty” and interpreted it as a comment on his sexuality.
When the organisation investigated the complaint, Staines said the comment had been made in relation to his colleague’s height and denied that it was because of his sexuality. He said: “I call him Arthur, Arthur man, half a man… I can’t call him Stumpy or anything else. It’s just banter.”
Staines was also accused of making inappropriate and belittling comments to a female firefighter, including stating that colleagues had “got her well trained”.
An internal investigation into the complaints found that Staines did not use language that was intended to be homophobic, but found that his colleague had reasonably interpreted the wording to have a homophobic connotation and it had caused offence. It found that both incidents were in breach of its staff code of conduct and suspended Staines.
He was invited to a disciplinary hearing in July 2020, after a significant delay due to the lockdown. The tribunal found the letter sent to Staines was “ambiguous” and it was not clear which allegations he was facing in relation to the female complainant.
The fire service found that Staines had not demonstrated self-improvement after his previous written warning for inappropriate language and had not demonstrated understanding of dignity at work. He was dismissed.
Staines then submitted an appeal against the decision in August 2020, but his appeal was not heard until December. The tribunal found the reasons for this delay unclear.
Although the tribunal found that Staines’ comments had been inappropriate and warranted dismissal, it said the employer was not entitled to dismiss the claimant without notice.
It agreed that the delay between the appeal submission and the hearing was unreasonable, which was in breach of the Acas code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures.
Because of this breach, the tribunal ordered the North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service to pay Staines a £11,538 payment in lieu of notice and £625 in holiday pay.
His claim for unfair dismissal was dismissed.