The former head of the Barnardo’s trading subsidiary has won a claim for constructive dismissal after being accused of trying to block the introduction of a Teletubbies product range because of health and safety concerns.
Tracey Sarwar was head of Barnardo’s Trading, a subsidiary company of the charity that purchases goods to sell in the charity’s shops, online or through mail-order catalogues, according to an employment tribunal judgment released earlier this month.
In her role, she reported to the charity’s director of retail and trading, Roy Clark, but had "total autonomy" over the day-to-day running of Barnardo’s Trading, the judgment said.
When Clark was appointed in August 2016, he told Sarwar that the Barnardo’s Trading office could be moved from Wickford, Essex, to the charity’s headquarters in Barkingside, east London, according to the judgment.
A few weeks afterwards, the charity decided, without Sarwar’s involvement, to introduce a Teletubbies product range that would be sold in its shops, the tribunal found.
A grievance was submitted by Sarwar on 20 September 2016 that set out her concerns about Clark’s conduct, the tribunal ruling said, and claimed she was being undermined and felt bullied.
This grievance was not upheld by the charity, the judgment said.
Clark decided to move forward with the relocation to headquarters and a consultation was launched on 5 October with no prior warning to Sarwar, the tribunal heard, which she interpreted as another instance of her position being undermined.
The Teletubbies contract progressed and Sarwar asked on 15 December 2016 to see pre-production samples, test certification terms and the conditions of the licence, as well as all communications about the product to date.
Sarwar then sent a private and confidential email on 23 December to Clark and another colleague about the Teletubbies project, in which she claimed the product test standards fell short of the charity’s requirements.
Grant Morgan from the external supplier Louis Kennedy, which was involved with the Teletubbies project, said in an email to staff at Barnardo’s that he did not want the project to be "further delayed or derailed through churlish questions, provocation, a lack of knowledge or possibly even all of the above". Sarwar was copied into this email.
A further email from Morgan to some Barnardo’s staff, including Clark but not Sarwar, said he was "fast losing my patience with this woman" and claimed Sarwar was "provocative, ignorant and not versed in the subject in which she professes to be an expert".
Two emails from Sarwar to Clark on 5 January 2017 set out some of her health and safety concerns about the Teletubbies project, the tribunal heard.
On 12 January, Clark told staff he had decided to press ahead with the move to the charity’s headquarters, telling them to "like it or lump it", the tribunal heard.
A meeting between Clark and Sarwar later that day saw Clark claim that she was blocking the business from moving forward.
An email from Morgan to Clark sent on 2 February confirmed the Teletubbies project would go ahead, despite Sarwar, who was copied into the email, not having signed it off.
In her resignation letter, written the following day, Sarwar expressed her "general unhappiness with Mr Clark’s manner", the judgment said.
"Ultimately this and the decision to pay the money on the Teletubbies contract without telling her or dealing with her deep and genuine concerns had led her to resign," the tribunal ruling said.
The tribunal decided that protected disclosures were made in the emails sent on 23 December 2016 and the first email on 5 January 2017, and that Sarwar was subject to detriment by the reaction to her emails from staff at Barnardo’s.
The charity’s conduct meant she was entitled to resign and treat herself as dismissed contrary to section 98 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, the tribunal ruled.
A hearing to set the amount of compensation that Sarwar should receive will take place between November and February, according to the tribunal judgment.
A spokesman for Barnardo’s said: "We respect the findings of the tribunal. We will be attending the remedy hearing where we will be presenting our case to the judge to mitigate financial loss to Barnardo’s."
Sarwar declined to comment.