An employee washes their hands at a sink

Facilities manager unfairly dismissed after raising Legionella concerns

A facilities manager was unfairly constructively dismissed after raising concerns about the potential for Legionella bacteria to develop in school water supplies, an Employment Tribunal has ruled. 

Bev Parkinson initially expressed his concerns in a report, explaining that the design and management of water systems at some Highland Council schools made the chances of Legionella bacteria occurring "more likely".

When the bacteria, which can potentially cause Legionnaires' disease, was then detected in water tests at five schools in the local authority area in 2019, Mr Parkinson submitted his report to Highland Council.

His employer, Mears Facilities Management, argued the report had brought the company into disrepute and Mr Parkinson was subsequently suspended and disciplined. The Tribunal heard he then felt forced to resign.

In his judgment, employment judge James Hendry said he "struggled to understand" Mears' position in the case and that the company "appeared to take pains to minimise what seems to have been serious and long-standing difficulties. The claimant did not know why he was being disciplined for preparing the report, especially as the company had accepted its terms. He had not been told that the report should be confidential and only disclosed to Alpha Schools.”

The judge also found that Mr Parkinson’s manager, Tom Griffin, who had been aware of the issues for some time, showed a “surprising lack of urgency” in dealing with the problems. The senior manager claimed the council employee was being “overzealous” and advised that staff at the school concerned should run the taps to clear any dirt. Following further concerns, Mr Parkinson arranged for further water samples to be taken at Kinlochleven High School in April 2019 and some tested positive for legionella. Other schools were then sampled and a further four tested positive for the bacteria. The claimant updated Mr Griffin who appeared unconcerned. Mr Griffin’s position was that it was normal to get positive results from time to time.

The judge concluded that as the designated "responsible person, potentially someone who carried legal liability for the continuing state of affairs", it was clear why Mr Parkinson would have been concerned with the situation. 

Commenting on the judgment, Mears said:

"We are naturally disappointed in the judge's verdict, and we fail to understand how this decision has been reached considering the evidence we supplied to the court.”

The company was ordered to pay Mr Parkinson almost £9,000.

Earlier this year, the HSE issued fresh guidance on Legionella, given that many work buildings have been closed for long periods due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It advised that water system stagnation can occur due to lack of use, increasing the risks of Legionnaires’ disease.