Royal British Legion unfairly constructively dismissed case officer, tribunal finds

Carolyn Bickerstaffe was bullied by a line manager and let down by the HR department after raising concerns about her workload and a number of signed blank cheques left in an unlocked drawer

The Royal British Legion constructively unfairly dismissed a case officer after she raised concerns about signed blank cheques left in an unlocked drawer, an employment tribunal has found.

The tribunal’s ruling, published this week, found in favour of Carolyn Bickerstaffe after a hearing in Southampton in November.

The tribunal’s judgment concluded that Bickerstaffe was subject to bullying behaviour by a line manager and the charity’s human resources department "seemed not to understand the meaning of the word confidentiality".

The judgment said Bickerstaffe joined the charity as a temporary employee, becoming a permanent member of staff on a part-time contract from October 2013 before moving to a full-time contract from January 2015.

The problems began in July 2015 when Bickerstaffe emailed James France, the charity’s area manager for Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, to raise issues about her workload – she was having to cover other duties because of staff sickness.

He replied with an email that the tribunal ruled to be "more of a threat than supportive" and which amounted to an instruction that Bickerstaffe should "get on with it or else", according to the judgment.

Bickerstaffe then sent an email to the charity’s human resources department marked "Confidential", setting out the issues with her workload and expressing concerns that there would be repercussions for her because she had gone above France’s head.

This email was forwarded by HR to France himself. "While human resources has to do something with information given to them, forwarding emails in this way is not one of them," the tribunal’s judgment said.

The judgment said the human resources team was regarded as "not fit for purpose, was dictatorial, not impartial, and was unhelpful".

"Human resources were making decisions and seemed not to understand the meaning of the word confidentiality," the judgment said. "On more than one occasion the claimant emailed HR and they forwarded the document to Mr France even though it was marked confidential."

France held a meeting with Bickerstaffe in early September 2015 during which, the tribunal concluded, his conduct was "bullying behaviour", the judgment said.

"The tribunal finds that Mr France intended to approach the meeting by having at its commencement a ‘laying down the law’ session, where he comprehensively denied the concerns of the claimant before trying to have a more constructive discussion," it said.

The tribunal also found that Bickerstaffe had been subject to detrimental treatment after she raised concerns in February 2016 about four signed blank cheques that she found in an unlocked drawer at the charity’s offices in Southampton.

The judgment ruled that the issue was a public interest disclosure and having signed cheques not locked away was an "accident waiting to happen".

Bickerstaffe was signed off work with stress in May 2016 while a grievance she had raised was dealt with, and did not return to work before she resigned in December that year.

The tribunal’s three panel members unanimously decided that Bickerstaffe had been subject to detrimental treatment as a result of making a public interest disclosure and was constructively unfairly dismissed.

It also ruled that her claim for personal injury resulting from the disclosure should succeed.

A spokeswoman for the Royal British Legion said: "We are not able to comment on the specifics of this case, but we review all grievances to ensure we are continually improving our internal systems and delivering the best support for all of our staff."

The date for a hearing to decide the damages that Bickerstaffe should receive is yet to be set.

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