Wincanton has been ordered to pay £20,000 in damages after an employee, who was sacked after being accused of exaggerating injuries sustained at work, won her claim of unfair dismissal.

An employment tribunal last week heard that Wincanton warehouse worker Natalia Samuel was struck by a falling drill in April 2012 at the Sainsbury’s Swan Valley depot, owned by Wincanton.

The incident left Samuel with severe nausea, headaches and poor balance, and following doctor assessments she was forced to take sick leave.

Following an investigation by Wincanton, which included private investigators covertly filming Samuel shopping, the employee was accused of faking her injuries and sacked.

Wincanton claimed the film showed Samuel walking a considerable distance and moving at a brisk pace, proving she was capable of her duties.

However, judge Michael Ord found in favour of Samuel and ordered Wincanton to pay £20,000 in damages for unfair dismissal.

Ord found Samuel had been anxious to return to work shortly after her accident, pointing to evidence that showed Samuel had tried to return to work in June 2012 after being certified as fit for light duties.

Despite her warehouse job, which involved lifting 25kg loads, Wincanton refused to make arrangements for her conditions.

Samuel tried applying for a desk-based role at the firm but was told it had been filled.

Ord said: “The most striking aspect of this case as far as the tribunal is concerned is that the medical evidence speaks consistently of the claimant’s limitations as a result of the injury. The dismissal was both procedurally and substantively unfair.”

Summing up, Ord said an occupational health physician’s report in February 2013 confirmed beyond doubt that Samuel’s injuries had left her disabled under the meaning of the Equality Act, which required her employers to give her lighter duties. Instead, he said, Wincanton was intent on establishing that Samuel was “exaggerating her symptoms”.

A Wincanton spokesman said: “We acknowledge and respect the court’s decision on this matter, but will not be commenting further.”

Dave Green of the Industrial Workers of the World Union, which represented Samuel, said: “This case shows the lengths and costs employers will go to avoid treating their employees fairly or decently.”