Postman who abandoned 'undriveable' van wins unfair dismissal claim
- Credit: Andrew Walne
A Suffolk postman who quit after abandoning his 'undriveable' van in despair has won an unfair dismissal claim against Royal Mail.
An employment tribunal ruled that Andrew Walne had no choice but to resign after the postal service failed to provide a vehicle suitable for his back problem.
The 61-year-old, of Framlingham, said he felt vindicated after winning his claim of constructive unfair dismissal against Royal Mail, which was found to have breached its duty under the Equality Act by failing to properly replace his broken down van.
On July 1, 2018, after almost 31 years in the job, he abandoned a Peugeot Bipper outside the local post office and later resigned following a period of sick leave.
Mr Walne, whose degenerative condition was detected in 2003, was given a warning for poor attendance the following February, despite Royal Mail accepting the absence was genuine and having discussed possible adjustments to his work.
A month before Mr Walne's resignation – prior to which the tribunal found no evidence of the situation being formally addressed – his GP noted: "Episode of back pain again, van changed, and cannot adjust seat to make back comfortable, needs time for recovery."
On June 11, 2018, after his usual Peugeot Partner van broke down, Mr Walne told his manager the Vauxhall Combo replacement was "killing" his back.
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The tribunal agreed that the Peugeot Bipper delivered the following day was unsuitable due its driving position, which aggravated Mr Walne’s condition.
Having received no response to his request for a call 27 minutes earlier, Mr Walne messaged bosses, saying: "You are having a laugh at my expense – call me when you find a van that is driveable and I’ll finish the round, until then this heap of **** is outside the post office."
Mr Walne had previously complained about being pressured to take on extra deliveries.
In March 2018, he complained about a further revision to his round, which, he said, managers knew he was incapable of finishing since the previous June.
The tribunal found that Mr Walne's decision not to attend an informal meeting with his manager two days after the incident, because he was seeking legal advice, was an ill-advised attempt to dictate the terms and timings of any discussion.
When he submitted a grievance letter, a more formal meeting was arranged, but he again failed to attend, having been issued a fit note certifying him unfit to work for two weeks with recurring back pain.
When the meeting was rescheduled to coincide with his last day of sickness absence, Mr Walne again failed to attend and subsequently resigned on July 1.
Although the tribunal found that his managers could not have been expected to know Mr Walne had a disability prior to the events of June, it found that, following receipt of the fit note, they had a responsibility to enquire about the nature of his condition.
The judgement said Royal Mail had been under a duty to provide a vehicle with a driving seat and steering wheel adjustment – and that finding a suitable replacement would have been a "very simple matter".
Employment judge Roger Tynan said that escalating the informal discussion had been "inexplicable and unjustified", and that Royal Mail should have arranged for someone independent to carry out any investigation.
The tribunal rejected his claim of discrimination, but was satisfied that breaches of the implied term of trust and confidence played a part in Mr Walne’s decision to resign, and will now list the case for a remedy hearing.
Mr Walne thanked his legal team of Clements Solicitors and barrister Suhayla Bewley, adding: "I knew Royal Mail had done me wrong, but I wouldn't have been able to do it myself.
"The most important thing is that I've been vindicated."
Royal Mail said it was carefully reviewing the decision, adding: "Royal Mail takes its equality and diversity obligations very seriously and is committed to a workplace free of discrimination and harassment, where our colleagues feel respected and able to thrive”.