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HR mishandling amounts to constructive dismissal, says Tribunal

View profile for Sally Morris
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A former worker of The Royal British Legion was unfairly dismissed, an Employment Tribunal has ruled, after it became apparent that the charity’s HR team had mishandled the employee’s concerns.

The Court heard how Carolyn Bickerstaff, who left the organisation in 2016, had raised concerns about her workload and the fact that signed blank cheques were left exposed in an office drawer.

She told her line manager, James France, that she was having to cover other duties because of staff sickness.

Mr France had emailed Ms Bickerstaff back, in what the Tribunal described as in a “threatening manner”, and made no attempt to address her issues.

The employee escalated the concerns to the charity’s HR division. She requested that these communications remained confidential due to potential repercussions with her line manager.

To Ms Bickerstaff and the Tribunal’s shock, the email she had written to HR detailing her run in was forwarded to her line manager, Mr France.

In its ruling in regards to this event, the Tribunal said: “While human resources has to do something with information given to them, forwarding emails in this way is not one of them.

It added that the HR department was regarded as “not fit for purpose, was dictatorial, not impartial, and was unhelpful”.

“Human resources were making decisions and seemed not to understand the meaning of the word confidentiality,” the Tribunal continued.

Ms Bickerstaff was later confronted by Mr France and another manager, who was reported as being “confrontational” and “aggressive” towards her.

The Tribunal found that “Mr France intended to approach the meeting by having at its commencement a ‘laying down the law’ session, where he comprehensively denied the concerns of the claimant before trying to have a more constructive discussion”.

The employee was signed off work for stress in May 2016 and felt that she could not return to work based on the grievances against her. The Tribunal agreed that this amounted to constructive dismissal.

It also agreed that her whistleblowing claim was in the public interest. The Tribunal described leaving the signed cheques unoccupied as an “accident waiting to happen”.

A spokeswoman for the Royal British Legion said: “We are not able to comment on the specifics of this case, but we review all grievances to ensure we are continually improving our internal systems and delivering the best support for all of our staff.”