Every day I advise employers on how to deal with dismissals where the key question asked is, ‘Can I dismiss fairly?’.
The truth is every situation is completely unique and there is rarely a yes or no answer. A recent case involving a Flybe pilot perfectly illustrates this.
Flybe dismissed a pilot who successfully claimed unfair dismissal despite having a fear of flying.
The headlines of the case are that he developed the fear, which manifested itself in the form of anxiety, panic attacks, dizziness and nausea, after several years of flying, following a change in aircraft and a promotion to long haul flights.
The airline offered counselling, time off, extra training and a phased return, but when he did return to full work, the pilot went off sick with the condition again. This led to the airline offering him an alternative, non-flying role as a flight safety support officer, but he was told that if he accepted the role there would be no possibility of returning to flying.
Despite taking these steps the tribunal determined that the pilot should have been given the chance to speak to the group chief operating officer who was the key decision-maker in his dismissal.
The judge said he should have been allowed to return to flying smaller planes or offered the opportunity to fly accompanied by an additional pilot for a period. The conclusion was that there was a 60+% chance the pilot would still have been dismissed if Flybe had done these things but that the dismissal should be ruled unfair.
I see this as a somewhat controversial decision which will divide opinion. I wonder what regulators, insurers and customers would think of being on a flight piloted by someone who has an identified fear of flying. It wouldn’t surprise me if an appeal wasn’t in the pipeline.
In the meantime the case shows employers why they must think and think again before dismissing even when it seems nothing more can be offered.