The case of former Redcar and Cleveland equalities officer Pauline Scanlon, who was recently awarded £442,466 in compensation at tribunal, holds important lessons for senior HR personnel, said an employment lawyer.
Scanlon was dismissed in August 2004 after she complained that the council had breached its own equal opportunities policy by not advertising the post of HR manager. Her union Unison claimed she’d been victimised by the council as a whistleblower.
Thompson solicitors, who represented Scanlon, said she was “sacked on trumped up charges brought about after she blew the whistle on her bosses”.
Redcar and Cleveland council said it was “surprised” at the level of the payout, and that it is “taking legal advice about this issue”.
Commenting on the ruling and award, Bob Fahy, solicitor at Matthew Arnold & Baldwin, said it was “striking” and a “clear illustration of the potential financial consequences where a dismissal is tainted by whistleblowing or discrimination, and the statutory cap of £66,200 for unfair dismissal compensation does not therefore apply.”
He added: “If an employee reports in good faith that they believe their employer had been involved in one of the protected categories of malpractice under the Public Interest Disclosure act (1998) – in this case a breach of legal obligation – any dismissal that is by reason of the protected disclosure is automatically unfair. Therefore it is unlawful to subject the employee to any other detrimental treatment short of dismissal by reason of that disclosure. Employees will not lose that protection simply because they are intemperate or tactless in the way they make their disclosure.
“In a similar way, an employee who makes an allegation in good faith of sex discrimination – or on other protected grounds – is protected from less favourable treatment as the result of having made the allegation. In both cases it is not necessary for the allegation to be true, only that it was made in good faith. This can be a difficult issue for HR advisers to deal with, especially when advising managers who just want to get on with the course of action they have chosen.”