Unfair dismissal following whistleblowing

A pet shop worker was unfairly dismissed after she made protected disclosures about colleagues not following Covid measures, a tribunal has ruled.

The tribunal found that, having made numerous complaints about adherence to Covid precautions at work, the employee was regarded as a source of ‘alienation’ by her colleagues

The employee was employed on a zero-hours contract in a pet shop owned and directed by a husband and wife. Around the start of the pandemic, the directors gave instructions to staff about Covid-secure measures in the shop.

However, the employee was “extremely worried” that neither management nor staff were “consistently following the rules”, sharing concerns that her colleagues were not wearing a face covering and failing to follow social distancing.  She was accused of being paranoid and no investigation was done to determine if the concerns were realistic.

Later, the employee was given a warning for harassing staff regarding the wearing of masks and PPE, suggesting that her behaviour amounted to bullying.  She was then dismissed and was told it was because other staff could not work with her.

The tribunal found that the meeting was not compliant with the Acas Code on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures, and that the employee was not properly invited to a disciplinary meeting, had no notice of disciplinary allegations made against her and no opportunity to prepare a response. A disciplinary appeal was later held which upheld the original decision to dismiss.

The tribunal found that the principal reason for the dismissal was because of the protected disclosures. By not investigating employee complaints or the previous actions of other employees, the tribunal also said that the company imposed detriment and, eventually, dismissed the emplotee as a direct result of her protected disclosures and the breakdown in working relationships that was caused by complaints that resulted from her disclosures.

This case is a reminder to employers that there are legal requirements relating to whistleblowing complaints. On receipt of a complaint, the employer needs to ask whether the employee has a reasonable belief that policies or the law are not being applied and whether the complaint is in the public interest.  At the very least, a thorough investigation should be carried out prior to a judgment being made.

121 HR Solutions has experience of managing such complaints in the workplace and can be contacted atenquiries@121hrsolutions.co.uk

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