Cinema employee automatically unfairly dismissed over trade union activity

Customer service assistant, Kelly Rogers, was automatically unfairly dismissed after discussing how workers could ‘cyber picket’ her employer’s website as part of strike action, a tribunal in London has ruled.

Ms Rogers had suggested to colleagues at the Picture House Cinema to reserve blocks of cinema tickets online that they did not intend to buy, making them temporarily unable to other potential customers. However, Ms Rogers was acting as part of her union during strike action and was therefore protected by Trade Union and Labour Regulations (TULRCA).

Ms Rogers had been working at the Brixton Ritzy Picturehouse since 2015 and remained employed with the company until her dismissal in July 2017. Having joined media and entertainment trade union BECTU at her previous place of employment, Ms Rogers was elected branch representative at the Ritzy within a few weeks.

Ms Roger became actively involved in a campaign for the London living wage between May and June 2016, protesting sick pay, maternity pay and other benefits. Ms Rogers chaired a meeting of 30 to 40 people in 2017 to discuss how cyber picketing would make the strike action “much more effective” and sent an email to all attendees about the idea. General manager of Brixton Ritzy, James Vandyke, became aware of the email after an employee had left their inbox open on a laptop.

Following annual leave, Ms Rogers was suspended for sending an email which sought to damage the interests of the company. The dismissing officer and regional manager, Cormac O’Connor, said the idea of cyber picketing was not the same as other forms of strike activity as it “deprived customers of a choice” and went on to dismiss Ms Rogers for gross misconduct on 6 July 2017.

Employment Judge Morton concluded the main reasons behind Ms Roger’s dismissal by Mr O’Connor did remain within the scope of 152(1)(b) of TULRCA, which states a dismissal is unfair where an employee 'had taken part, or proposed to take part in the activities of an independent trade union at an appropriate time':

“What seemed to us important was the fact that the claimant did not engage in cyber picketing – she merely suggested it in an email summarising the discussion at a trade union meeting and… took no further steps to make it happen.”

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