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constructive dismissal unfair dismissal

Unfair dismissal resulting from demotion to do “officey things”

Easington Lane Primary SchoolZena Dickenson worked for 21 years at Easington Lane Primary School. From 2009 she was employed as the School Business Manager. She was responsible for a £1.2 million budget and she had 15 employees reporting directly to her.

In 2015 it became apparent that there would be an overspend and reduced income for reasons including shortfalls in the ‘pupil premium’ income and income from ‘early years’. She was approached by a clerk/receptionist, Kellie Todd, who wanted to know what her prospects were. Mrs Dickenson said that she could not be guaranteed additional hours in the future and there was a possibility that there would be redundancies. Ms Todd reported to a senior teacher, Hannah Wardle, that she was upset as a result of the conversation with Mrs Dickenson. Hannah Wardle in turn reported the matter to head teacher, Sarah Nordstrom, who commenced an investigation. The school’s HR adviser, Paula Barclay, interviewed Hannah Wardle, Kellie Todd and others and prepared draft witness statements for them. She advised Sarah Nordstrom as follows:

“I would start with

“There are some rumours in the school that there is going to be redundancies next year – what you know about this? and let her speak.

“If her response is she doesn’t know anything about it probe a little by asking if she denies having any conversations with colleagues about redundancy, reducing hours etc.

“Then ask her how this risk has not been brought to your attention and why it has not been reported on in the recent Finance meetings.

“If you believe the explanation about the budget stacks up you may choose not to suspend her. However, I think we both agree that she has stepped outside of her remit as Business Manager and SMT in divulging this information to colleagues. Therefore you can tell her you have concerns about this and an investigation will take place but you could do this with her still at work. However, unless she comes up with some plausible explanation which eliminate your concerns about funds the prudent approach would be to suspend her to allow a full and fair investigation to take place.

“Explain to her that this is not disciplinary action and that she will be paid while she is off. She will receive a letter confirming the position and she should not speak to anyone about this.”

Mrs Dickenson was duly suspended on 9 December 2015 to investigate allegations that she had a discussion with a colleague about the risk of redundancies when this had not been discussed by the senior leadership team and that, despite having the discussion she had not raised financial concerns with the senior leadership team. After a couple of false starts a disciplinary hearing took place on 26 February 2016. It was agreed that her suspension would be lifted. On attending work the following Monday she found that her security pass had been disabled. She was told not to go into the office but to wait in reception. The head teacher informed her that a performance improvement plan was to be put in place. She would no longer have any line management responsibilities and she would have to work in the main office at reception updating the school’s database until the plan was put in place.

Mrs Dickenson became distressed and said that she would like to be considered for redundancy. She was taken home and remained off sick until she resigned.

In the meantime Paula Barclay sent her two letters, one asking her to attend a formal absence review meeting and the other asking her to attend a protected conversation meeting. Mrs Dickenson did not attend the meetings. However there were negotiations via her union rep which led to a proposed termination date and settlement figure. After obtaining legal advice a revised offer was made on her behalf which the employer was not prepared to meet.

On 26 April she wrote and submitted a letter of resignation, providing the requisite three months’ notice. She set out various grounds on which she considered that both she and her position had been undermined. In particular she noted that Mr Trotter, the deputy head and occasional acting head, had effectively demoted her to the position of receptionist and that she had been told by him to do “officey things”.