A credit controller who was told he had been ‘around since Pontius was a Pilate’ has won a harassment and constructive dismissal case against his former employer.
Mr Finch resigned from insurance brokerage Clegg Gifford in 2020 after he was offered a redundancy settlement which was later retracted.
An employment tribunal sitting in East London found he had been constructively and unfairly dismissed, victimised and harassed by the company and its managing director.
The claimant was based in the firm’s Romford office as a credit controller. He had been transferred to the company under TUPE regulations in 2017, when Clegg Gifford acquired the insurance division of Tradex, where he had worked for a long period.
Finch had some serious health issues, including diabetes and anaemia. He claimed managing director Ms Bellamy asked him whether he was “planning on a nap this afternoon” in front of colleagues, in reference to a time when he fell asleep in the office when it became hot and stuffy. The claimant told the tribunal that the medication he was on often made him drowsy.
Harassment at work
The tribunal found that this comment was “crass”, particularly as Bellamy was aware of his health issues. It said that if there was concerns about the claimant falling asleep in the office, this should have been dealt with in a closed meeting or via an occupational health assessment. It found he was most likely falling asleep at work because of his disability.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Finch was told he should consider bringing his holiday forward because he “might not be around in September or October”. In an email raising a grievance about this, he said: “This is an extremely hurtful thing to say – and could be taken to mean that I might actually be dead by September or October anyway. To have such a hurtful comment said to be by a member of HR team has only added to the stress and anxiety and uncertainty about the current situation.”
The company denied that this comment was related to the claimant’s health, but the tribunal found in Finch’s favour and agreed the comment was related to his disability and an act of harassment.
Following a period of furlough, Finch and other colleagues were sent emails with surveys to gauge their views on returning to the office in summer 2020. He stated that he had some concerns about public transport.
After completing the survey, he was informed that he would be made redundant and a settlement agreement was offered. The letter included an incorrect start date for his employment, which he raised with Bellamy.
In response, Bellamy sent Finch an email that stated: “…you have received the maximum amount of statutory redundancy pay and we know you have been around since Pontius was a Pilate…”. Finch was 66 years old at the time.
The company argued this had been a throwaway remark to lighten the tone, but the tribunal found this statement to be an act of harassment.
Following a period of silence from the claimant as to whether he was going to accept the settlement, his solicitor sent the firm a letter before action to the firm. The company subseqently withdrew the settlement offer and requested that Finch return to the office. The tribunal found this was an act of victimisation.
The judgment says: “The employment tribunal is unanimous that the reference to Pontius Pilate is objectively capable of being offensive. By analogy, it might be deeply offensive to a Christian. And it cannot in the circumstances really be other than at least an inference to be taken that the reference is because the claimant has been around so long goes to his age.”
Compensation will be decided in later hearing.