Healthcare charity unfairly dismissed receptionist in dispute over working hours, tribunal finds

A private charitable hospital has been told to pay more than £6,000 to a radiotherapy receptionist it unfairly dismissed. 

London Central Employment Tribunal heard how the claimant, Elsa Campbell, began working at The London Clinic in November 2009. 

She was issued a contract that required her to work 35 hours a week but did not specify her times of work.

The tribunal heard that Campbell was taking medication for a number of conditions, the side-effects of which often left her drowsy.

Campbell said was attracted to the job because she “generally” worked between 9.30am and 5.30pm, which allowed her to take her medication at times that did not affect her work. 

In 2018 the charity purchased a new scanner it wanted to allow patients to access more often and outside of standard office hours. 

As a result, informal consultations about the proposed changes to Campbell’s terms and conditions began in November 2018. 

The tribunal heard that the initial meeting went ahead despite her asking for more time to consider the changes and the charity did not offer her the right to be accompanied to the meeting. 

Campbell claimed she was told that if she did not agree to the changes a formal consultation process would begin the following month and finish after three meetings in February 2019. 

She said she was “admonished for making notes” at the meeting.

The tribunal judge found that “this was not the case”, but the perception “set the tone” in future meetings because Campbell did not trust the charity.

Her main concern with the proposed new shift pattern was how it would affect her blood pressure medication. 

The tribunal heard how Campbell felt she was treated “inhumanely” during the formal consultation process and felt pressured to accept later working hours, although transcripts of the meetings did not back up this claim. 

Following three meetings over a period of several months where Campbell raised a grievance about how the consultation process was handled and had a period off sick, she was offered a part-time role as an alternative. 

She was given just one night to consider the contract. When she did not sign it, she was dismissed with immediate effect in July 2019, the tribunal heard. 

Campbell appealed the decision, but it was not upheld and the outcome was delayed after a staff member at the charity missed an email when dealing with the appeal.

Employment judge Emma Burns said that an employee’s appeal against their dismissal was supposed to allow them to highlight why it might have been unfair and/or discriminatory, but “the appeal in this case failed to do that entirely”.

She said: “The appeal was so awful that it renders the dismissal unfair. The appeal failed to address the claimant’s [Campbell] key concerns.”

But the judge did make a deduction from the compensatory award because, although the dismissal was procedurally unfair, it would have happened anyway because “relationships had broken down” and Campbell was “exploring opportunities elsewhere". 

Campbell was awarded £6,159. 

The charity said it sincerely regretted the concern caused to Campbell after it was obliged to change her shift patterns.

"We undertook detailed consultation with her and sought to support her throughout this transition. We accept the criticism of our appeals process and have put in place measures to prevent any such recurrence," a spokesperson said.

"However, the tribunal ultimately agreed that we had a reasonable business case to dismiss Ms Campbell given we were unable to reach agreement on her future working hours. We hope Ms Campbell is now able to put these matters behind her and we wish her well for her future health and wellbeing.”

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