A convicted paedophile has won a claim for breach of contract against his former employers after he was dismissed without notice last year whilst in prison.
Mr Robert Wills was employed by RWE Npower as a power station worker until his contract was terminated earlier this year. Mr Wills, who had worked at the company for a number of years, was due to be made redundant by the firm but had agreed with the company that he could take a period of leave which would cover him until his contract was due to end. During this period of leave Mr Wills was convicted of 10 separate offences, including making indecent images of children, but did not inform his employer of this. Npower subsequently discovered his conviction through reading the local paper and took steps to summarily dismiss him, claiming that his contract had been “frustrated” by the imprisonment and that it was therefore impossible for him to fulfil the terms of the contract. Mr Wills was therefore dismissed without notice and was not paid the sums that were due to him contractually or statutorily under his contract of employment.
After consulting the Citizens Advice Bureau Mr Wills decided to issue Employment Tribunal proceedings for breach of contract, failure to pay statutory redundancy pay and failure to pay holiday pay. The matter came to a full hearing at the Reading Employment Tribunal earlier this year, with both Mr Wills and employees for Npower giving evidence. The Employment Tribunal heard that Npower had decided, even though Mr Wills was on a period of agreed leave, to terminate his contract of employment as they believed it had been “frustrated” by the imprisonment.
The Reading Employment Tribunal, chaired by Mr Andrew Gumbiti-Zimuto, found in favour of Mr Wills in his claims for breach of contract, failure to pay statutory redundancy pay and failure to pay holiday pay.
Employment Judge Gumbiti-Zimuto stated in his judgment “In this case it is said on the behalf of the claimant that the contract is not frustrated by his imprisonment because there was no requirement for the claimant to be at work. He was on leave. Whether the claimant was in Bullingdon (Prison) or in Benidorm, it made no difference to the contract of employment. My conclusion is that the contract was not frustrated. Imprisonment does not automatically end the employment. In this case the claimant was not expected to enter work, whether in prison or out, before the contract of employment expired.”
Mr Wills was therefore paid £5,850 in statutory redundancy pay, £24,953 for breach of contract and £1,731 for holiday pay that he should have been paid.
Chris Hadrill, an employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “This is a classic case of employers attempting to escape their contractual and statutory obligations but doing so incorrectly. If employers fail to take lawful steps then they risk expensive and time-consuming employment tribunal proceedings.”