Food bank manager wins tribunal case after affair claim about chair

A former employee at a food bank has been awarded £8,000 by the employment tribunal for unfair dismissal.

Caroline Marsland was awarded the compensation after her contract as a project co-ordinator with the charity Food for Thought in Dumbarton, West Dunbartonshire, was terminated in 2019.

Glasgow Employment Tribunal ruled that Marsland had been unfairly dismissed, but the judge did not uphold Marsland’s allegation that she was sacked for claiming that the charity’s chair of trustees was having an affair with a vulnerable volunteer.

The charity told Third Sector it was pleased that Marsland had “failed in [her] attempt to take £48,000 from a food bank”.

Marsland was the charity’s only employee and had worked there since 2016.

She was managed by its chair of trustees, identified by the tribunal only as DE. DE, who was married, was also a priest at the church where the food bank was based.

The tribunal documents say Marsland raised concerns with the local diocese in June 2018 about an alleged affair between DE and a volunteer at Food for Thought, whom Marsland considered to be vulnerable.

She also raised the matter with a friend at the church.

At a meeting later that year, Marsland called on DE to step down as chair of trustees, given the claims about an affair, the documents say.

DE told her that she was “causing division in the church” and suggested that, as she was already looking for new employment, she should leave her job.

Marsland took a period of leave, but when she returned “the atmosphere at work between the claimant and others working for the respondent, including volunteers, was strained”, the tribunal heard.

DE resigned as trustee of the charity in November 2018 and retired from the church in April 2019.

The board, under a new chair, then decided to terminate Marsland’s contract, with the charity pursuing a fresh “vision” that relied more on volunteers.

The judgment says trustees made this decision under the mistaken belief that Marsland was self-employed.

Marsland accused the charity of sacking her for “refusing to be complicit” in covering up DE’s alleged affair, according to the documents. The judge did not share this conclusion.

But the tribunal said it was “unable to conclude” that Marsland’s dismissal “was wholly or mainly attributable to the [charity] no longer requiring an employee to undertake the claimant’s work as a project co-ordinator”.

The tribunal did not make any judgment on whether Marsland's claim about the alleged affair was accurate.

The documents say Marsland is suffering stress and anxiety and has not worked since leaving Food for Thought, and she was awarded £8,059 for unfair dismissal.

A spokesperson for the charity said: “Food For Thought is pleased with the outcome of the tribunal process.

“As an organisation, we were unaware of the statutory rights of self-employed workers and did not know the process that should have been followed.

“We have always maintained that the decision made was in good faith and in the best interests of our financial situation to feed the most needy in our community.

“We are pleased that the tribunal judge rejected the claims of the claimant that there may have been any other reason for dismissal and that the entirety of our witnesses were truthful and accurate.

“While the compensation of £8,000 is not welcomed during the worst cost-of-living crisis we have seen, there has been a contingency fund in place since the tribunal started.

“We are pleased that the claimant has failed in their attempt to take £48,000 from a food bank.

“We wish to thank the tribunal for their part in due process and their ruling which allowed a lot of false claims and inaccuracies to be quashed.”

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