Worker dismissed to save extra pension falls foul of law

Employers should ensure they follow the proper redundancy procedure after a council employee successfully won a case against the authority that had dismissed him with the aim of preventing him claiming an enhanced pension benefit.

John Wooster was an employee of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets on secondment to East End Homes when he was made redundant just months before turning 50 years of age, when he would have been entitled to a larger pension and a lump sum. He claimed the council deliberately refused to deploy him.

The Employment Tribunal was shown evidence that Maureen McEleney, director of the council’s housing management, had informed a colleague in an email that she wanted to dismiss Wooster before his 50th birthday to “save the pension”.

Kieron Mitchinson, senior lawyer in the pensions team at CMS Cameron McKenna, said: “This case opens the door to the possibility of age discrimination claims wherever employees have been dismissed for redundancy shortly before they would otherwise have become entitled to potentially significant pension benefits. It flags the importance for employers of showing that decisions to dismiss for redundancy in these circumstances can be justified on non-age-related grounds.”

Mitchinson said it was not uncommon for employers, especially public authorities, to make staff aged in their late 40s redundant, but if they were going to do so, they must ensure they go through the proper procedure of trying to redeploy them before dismissing them.

“It was difficult for the tribunal not to ignore this rather unfortunate email. If you look at the facts, the council [was] clearly conscious that there was a huge amount of money to be saved. Tower Hamlets did not follow the proper procedures.”

The tribunal ruled in favour of Wooster, judging that the council did not follow statutory dismissal procedure. The level of compensation will be decided at a future hearing.