BrewDog fined £12,000 after sacking worker who faced turning blind

By James Beeson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Unfair discrimination: James Ross (not pictured) worked in packaging at BrewDog's Ellon facility
Unfair discrimination: James Ross (not pictured) worked in packaging at BrewDog's Ellon facility
Scottish craft brewery BrewDog has been ordered to pay £12,000 to a former employee after sacking him because he was about to be declared blind.

The worker, James Ross, started working for the Aberdeenshire-based company in July 2016. In December 2016, his eyesight began to deteriorate due to a pre-existing eye condition known as Stargardt disease.

Despite a specialist in visual impairment saying the 47-year-old could continue to work if adjustments were made, BrewDog took the decision to dismiss him in May 2017, citing a “massive health and safety risk” if he was allowed to continue to work on-site.

Ross received just one month’s pay and holiday entitlement on his dismissal, but has now been awarded £12,405.52 after the employment tribunal ruled that he was unlawfully discriminated against on account of his disability and unfairly dismissed by BrewDog.

They just wanted me out

Speaking to The Herald newspaper,​ Ross said: “The way they dealt with my condition was really poor for a company of their size. The management just didn’t seem to have a clue how to deal with it, they just wanted to end it.

“They weren’t interested in making any changes, they just wanted me out.

“BrewDog try to claim they’re this top company to work for, but I took this tribunal to show what they really are.”

After his eyesight deteriorated in December 2016, Ross informed his packaging and warehouse manager and provided BrewDog with a copy of a medical report stating that further tests were needed that would likely result in him being declared blind.

'High-risk' rating

At the employment tribunal, which took place last month, judges heard how Ross’s condition led BrewDog’s health and safety manager John Fairclough to give the employee a 'high-risk' rating after an assessment and, subsequently, suspend him on 10 March.

Between March and May 2017, a number of changes were recommended by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) that would have allowed Ross to continue working for the company.

A mobility officer also visited the site and found Ross was able to carry out his duties without any difficulty.

However, Mr Ross was later sacked on 24 May after rejecting a computing role with the company, citing that it was harder for him to perform because of his condition. At the dismissal meeting, Ross’s line manager did not refer to the RNIB assessment or the visit of the mobility officer.

Paying 'lip service'

The tribunal noted being “concerned” that managers involved in Ross’s case had no knowledge of the need to make adjustments for disabled people under the Equality Act, stating that only “lip service” was paid to the brewery’s duty to make said adjustments.

“We are bound to say, that [a company] with some 800 employees, including those with HR expertise, we found that astonishing,” the tribunal added.

Responding to the tribunal's ruling, a BrewDog spokesperson said: "This was a really difficult situation for every member of our team involved in it, and clearly for the tribunal panel too as their decision on the outcome was split.

"We worked with James in order to find a suitable alternative role within the business where his safety would not be compromised, but James wanted to keep his packaging role. We ended up in a position where we had to balance James’ wishes with the best interests of the team around him, and while we regret that an agreement couldn’t be reached, we have a moral responsibility to prioritise the safety of our team.

"We wish James all the best in his new role and his upcoming studies."

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