An employment tribunal has upheld a claim for unfair dismissal by a former employee of the Chartered Accountants’ Benevolent Association.
Samantha Reddy was employed by Caba for four years from 2009, first as an agency worker and later as a debt support officer.
The charity, which employs about 30 people, 11 of whom are managers, provides advice and practical support to current and former accountants, including advice on debt and stress in the workplace.
In November 2012 Reddy and another internal candidate applied for the position of senior support officer at the charity, but Reddy was unsuccessful.
Reddy complained to her managers, Natalie Worth and Kelly Feehan, that she felt cheated by their decision.
An employment tribunal in Birmingham heard evidence this January that, in January 2013, Reddy had a return-to-work interview after a period of sickness absence before Christmas 2012, and that relations between Reddy and her two managers deteriorated sharply from this point.
The tribunal’s judgment, published in February, says that Reddy’s managers called her into a series of meetings between January and May last year in which issues were raised about her behaviour, attitude and standard of dress.
The meetings were characterised as informal by Reddy’s managers but the tribunal found that they were disciplinary in nature, the judgment says.
In June, Reddy wrote to Feehan asking for a more detailed explanation in writing of the accusations made against her by her managers, but Feehan refused to provide one.
The tribunal noted that this placed Reddy "in the Kafkaesque dilemma of being told that she must behave better in future without ever having been told when or how she had done wrong in the past".
Reddy’s solicitor then lodged a formal grievance on her behalf against Caba that said management’s behaviour towards her could give rise to a claim for constructive dismissal.
In a final meeting on 12 July last year between Reddy and Caba’s HR manager, Tracey Birch, Birch accused Reddy of being paranoid and stormed out, the tribunal heard.
The tribunal describes Birch’s behaviour at the meeting as "unprofessional and inappropriate" and Worth’s management style in general as "autocratic and old-fashioned".
Reddy was signed off for stress by her GP after the meeting with Birch and, later that month, her solicitor submitted her resignation.
In her resignation letter, Reddy said that she had no confidence in Caba’s grievance procedure because a consultant previously connected with the charity had been appointed to oversee it.
She then submitted her claim for unfair dismissal at the employment tribunal.
Claims for sexual discrimination and for unlawful deductions from her wages were subsequently withdrawn.
The internal grievance procedure went ahead anyway and reported back five months later to say it had not upheld Reddy’s claims.
The tribunal notes guidelines from the mediation service Acas, which say that decisions on grievance claims should not be subject to unreasonable delay: there was a "manifest and very serious failure to do so" in this case, the tribunal says. Because of this, it says, any compensatory award should be increased by 25 per cent.
The case will be listed for a remedy hearing at a future date to decide compensation.
Reddy, who has since moved to Australia, told Third Sector she had written to Caba’s trustees this week to criticise how the charity was run and noted that staff turnover at the charity was high.
"A very large number of employees have left or been forced to leave, some of them in circumstances perhaps not dissimilar to the situation I found myself in," she said in the letter. "This reflects very badly on the how the charity is managed. Many have received a pay-off and/or have had to sign confidentiality clauses."
Caba said it was sorry for any distress experienced by Reddy. It said that its trustees took their legal and ethical responsibilities towards staff seriously and had faith in the charity’s leadership team.
"As befits a charity in our position, we strive to be transparent and fair in our handling of all staffing matters," a spokesman said. "However, like any organisation, we sometimes make errors and the employment tribunal finding showed that improvements could be made in some areas of our procedures. We are therefore currently reviewing the relevant HR procedures in order to ensure that a similar issue is very unlikely to arise in the future."