Domestic violence charity unfairly dismissed complained-about support worker, tribunal finds

A support worker at a charity that provides refuges for women and families who have been victims of domestic violence was unfairly dismissed, a tribunal has concluded.

Leeds Employment Tribunal heard how the claimant, Mrs S Kosar, had been employed by a refuge operated by Bradford Women’s Aid from September 2005.

Her employment was transferred to Family Action in October 2019 after the charity and another organisation called Staying Put took over the refuge.

In December 2019, a complaint was made against Kosar by a service user who was a resident at the refuge.

The tribunal heard how the complaint was passed to a manager at Staying Put who did not follow it up.

It was eventually passed to a service manager at Family Action in January 2020 and a formal complaints process was started because allegations had been made against a number of staff members now employed by both organisations.

The service user who made the complaint, named only as BB, was a victim of domestic abuse and had recently had her five young children removed from her care.

Kosar was responsible for the children, but the tribunal heard that BB “was unable to accept her responsibility for her own actions in parenting and constantly stated that matters reported to social care were lies”.

A second complaint was made against Kosar in December 2019 by another former resident, named only as SB.

Senior managers at the charity and Staying Put then arranged interviews with all staff members who worked at the refuge during the relevant time period, including Kosar in February 2020.

The tribunal heard that “it was not unusual for residents to be angry with staff”, but Kosar had been at the refuge for 14 years without any conduct or performance issues.

Following the investigation she was suspended on “unspecified allegations of gross misconduct”.

The tribunal heard that the allegations were upheld, not “as fact” but on “the balance of probabilities”.

A disciplinary hearing took place in July 2020 which Kosar attended with a union representative, but the hearing could not be concluded and Kosar was advised to submit any more evidence in writing.

The tribunal heard that during the investigation a number of written statements and case notes provided by Kosar were not reviewed as part of her evidence.

There was some dispute over whether Kosar’s communication with residents was at times “aggressive” and one resident suggested feeling “humiliated”, but a number of residents also said “they never witnessed a staff member demeaning a resident”.

The tribunal noted that Kosar had not shown any remorse or acknowledged that her behaviour could have been seen as bullying or harassing, although she stated that was never her intention.

Kosar subsequently appealed the decision to terminate her employment, in October 2020, and said during the hearing that she would be prepared to apologise to residents.

Employment judge Maidment said that while Kosar was guilty of “abrupt behaviour”, this did not amount to the gross misconduct she was sacked for.

Maidment added: “She [Kosar] did not act in a fundamental breach of her contract of employment so as to destroy the necessary trust and confidence in her. The respondent [Family Action] was not entitled to terminate the claimant’s contract of employment without notice and therefore her separate complaint seeking damages for breach of contract must succeed.”

However, the compensatory award will be reduced by 25 per cent to reflect Kosar’s conduct prior to dismissal.

A remedy hearing date has not been set.

The charity declined to comment.


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