An England-based firefighter successfully sued bosses after he was forced out of his job and began flying to and from work while moving to Northern Ireland.
Alan Simmons of the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service moved from the county on the south coast and moved to Northern Ireland with his family for a “better quality of life”.
The longtime crew manager has repeatedly called for his hours to be reduced and even downgraded so he could continue to work after 375 miles to his new home in County Fermanagh.
Mr Simmons, who took regular flights to work, made plans to implement short-time work, and a trial run proved successful.
However, a labor court found that his bosses made a “strong exception” to his move and wanted him out.
The 47-year-old must now receive compensation for receiving an unjustified dismissal complaint after he was forced to resign from the fire service.
The Labor Court heard Mr Simmons, who has two young children, was hired as a firefighter in 1992 and was posted from two Hampshire fire stations – Havant and Waterlooville.
He worked full-time in Havant and had to work at least 70 hours a week in Waterlooville, including on-call duty.
According to the court, it is typical for firefighters to take on such contracts with other fire stations in addition to their previous duties.
In December 2016, Mr. Simmons and his family moved to Enniskillen.
Colleagues said it was “clear to see how happy and satisfied Alan has been since moving”. He flew to and from work and stayed at his uncle’s house while he worked, near both stations.
His desire to reduce his hours in Waterlooville was a “long-term problem” as he unsuccessfully applied for 50 percent of them in 2012.
When he moved to Northern Ireland, he again requested a 50 percent reduction to work at least 35 hours in Waterlooville.
At this point, his relationship with managers became “difficult” and they were “antagonistic” to him. Watch manager Craig Sadler made friends with him on Facebook and Mr Simmons also complained that he was “ignoring” him.
Mr. Simmons was demoted to firefighter to hand over managerial duties and despite a successful three month trial, the bosses still did not allow him to work on a 50 percent contract in Waterlooville.
A tribunal even heard that the Waterlooville Fire Station was advertising 50 percent contracts and hiring the firefighters on the contract, which Mr Simmons was denied.
In March 2018, he took a one-year sabbatical from Waterlooville – but continued to work in Havant – and again requested that his working hours be halved when he returned.
He said, “I went on a sabbatical, lost a year of my income, and found in my absence several new applicants were offered and accepted into the service I have been seeking for six years.”
The motion was denied and he lost his “last straw” calling for Mr. Simmons and resigned in September 2019. He would have been fired anyway, and the on-duty group leader, Brian Neat, had already decided Mr Simmons’ fate while he was on his sabbatical.
Labor judge Martha Street ruled that the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service has repeatedly broken Mr Simmons’ trust and forced him to resign.
The fire department did not properly investigate Mr. Simmons whether he could work on short-time work in Northern Ireland, Judge Street said. Panel Chairman Judge Street said: “We did not believe that Waterlooville’s management and officials handling the application for reduced hours did not want FF Simmons to take over as a firefighter after he moved to Northern Ireland.
“They fought vehemently against this. Again and again and consistently, it is his move and the desire to concentrate his working hours that are behind the reasons given for the non-approval of the short-time work contract.
“This is in line with the dismissal decision made before the end of the sabbatical and without in any way exploring the scope for FF Simmons to fulfill his contracts …”
The judge added, “GM Neat ruled the dismissal was its intended outcome before the sabbatical ended.
“That decision was fueled by knowledge of the difficulties in personal relationships at Waterlooville.” The main reason the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service acted, we believe, was that they had moved to Northern Ireland. Part of the reason was his managers’ dislike of FF Simmons. “
The judge added: “At no point was there any indication of the impact of the loss on the broadcaster of the coverage that FF Simmons had provided for many years.
“Granting a reduction in hours would have the advantage that at least half of the cover he provided and a highly qualified and experienced officer could be retained.”
Mr. Simmons will be awarded compensation at a future hearing. His reference to whistleblowing related to concerns about the whereabouts of other firefighters was dismissed.
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