Former Hafan Cymru finance officer was not unfairly dismissed, says tribunal

Andrea Finney was sacked by the housing association for making public details of pay rises for senior staff

An employment tribunal has rejected a claim for unfair dismissal from a former housing association finance officer who revealed details of pay rises awarded to senior staff.

A judgment from Cardiff Employment Tribunal, made on 17 June, said that Andrea Finney was sacked by the Welsh charitable housing association Hafan Cymru in September 2012 for making public the pay rises received by the charity’s senior staff.

In 2010 Catherine Davies, chief executive of Hafan Cymru, which provides housing support for people who experience domestic violence in Wales, warned the 150 staff that it needed to save at least £300,000 to remain financially viable because of possible changes to its government funding, the tribunal judgment says.

After a consultation, the organisation’s management board decided to impose a 3 per cent pay cut on all staff, excluding those earning less than £15,000 a year, the judgment says.

But the organisation did not suffer the budgets cuts it had predicted and, at a meeting in March 2012, the board decided to award a 1 per cent bonus to all staff, excluding Davies and the two other directors.

Davies was awarded a retrospective pay increase of 14 per cent from 2011/12 and a further increase of 5.6 per cent from 1 April 2012, the tribunal heard. The two other directors also received retrospective pay rises of about 7 per cent for 2011/12 and further increases of about 3 per cent from 1 April 2012.

Finney told the tribunal that she "felt betrayed by Catherine Davies and the two directors taking the pay increase because she thought that up to that point everyone in the organisation was pulling in the same direction to ensure the service being provided would continue", the judgment says.

After contacting the union Unison and the whistleblowing charity Public Concern at Work, on 2 June 2012 Finney attended a Unison meeting where she made public the percentage pay rises received by Davies, Thomas and Warrington, the judgment says.

After a disciplinary hearing, Finney was dismissed by Hafan Cymru for breaching the trust of her employer. Finney appealed against the dismissal but lost, the tribunal heard.

Finney then appealed to the Cardiff Employment Tribunal, claiming unfair dismissal. But employment judge Philip Davies ruled that Finney’s dismissal was not unfair. He said Finney should have gone through Hafan Cymru’s whistleblowing policy rather than announce her concerns in public. "In short, I find that the claimant failed to act reasonably and did not have a reasonable belief in any financial malpractice or wrongdoing at the time she made the disclosure," said Davies in the judgment.

Hafan Cymru’s management board said in a statement that it was delighted the tribunal had ruled in its favour. Catherine Davies said: "We’re obviously delighted the judgment was so clear and that we have successfully defended the claim."

Finney told Third Sector that she was disappointed by the outcome of the tribunal. "Morally, I think I’m absolutely right in what I have done," she said.

She said she did not raise her concerns internally because she wasn’t fully aware of the organisation’s whistleblowing policy. "I was suffering from stress and I didn’t feel I could go to anyone in the organisation because it was about the chief executive and two directors," she said.

Darron Dupre, regional organiser for Unison, which paid for Finney’s representation at the hearing, said the union would consider appealing the tribunal’s decision.

"Despite this disappointing outcome today, Unison is clear that the chief executive and board of Hafan Cymru misused the outstanding goodwill of their own staff, which saved the organisation," he said.

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