Age Concern exec undermined by trustees wins £26k in compensation

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A former charity CEO has won more than £26,000 in compensation after being constructively dismissed from her role.

Gillian Smith worked for Age Concern from September 2014 to August 2019, working her way up from a home support assistant role to CEO for Exmouth and District.

She resigned after her decisions were repeatedly undermined by the board of trustees, which an employment tribunal in Exeter agreed had breached the implied term of trust and confidence and made her role untenable.

The first incident Smith complained about occurred in 2018, when she had witnessed two staff members behaving in a way she considered bullying.

She warned both employees that disciplinary action would be taken if their behaviour continued, to which one shouted “shove your job up your arse” and left the premises. Smith took that as the employee’s resignation and informed the trustees.

Months later, the trustees told Smith that they had dealt with a letter of complaint from the employee involved, which had not been brought to Smith’s attention earlier. Smith told the tribunal this made her feel unsupported and untrusted by the trustees. The matter was later brought up at her appraisal in 2019, which compounded her disappointment at the way she’d been supported.

Smith’s second area of complaint concerned an incident in which an employee had apparently lied about owning a car, which was necessary for a role she wanted to be promoted into. The employee put in a complaint to the trustees which said Smith had made up the fact that she had lied about having a car and complained that the claimant had offered her statutory sick pay instead of full pay while absent. Again, the trustees dealt with the matter without consulting Smith and later informed her of the outcome, which Smith felt undermined her authority.

Lastly, Smith told the tribunal that she felt undermined once more when the trustees reversed an agreed decision to suspend an employee following hostile behaviour towards her. Smith had sought advice from an external HR consultant, who said the employee should be suspended on full pay while an investigation was undertaken. The HR consultant’s recommended course of action was approved by the trustees. However, the day after Smith suspended the employee, the trustees decided to reverse the decision in a meeting Smith was not invited to.

Smith told the tribunal this made her feel publicly humiliated in front of the charity’s employees, who would see the employee had returned to work. She felt the trustees had given no thought to her feelings or how her authority and reputation would be undermined by this decision, which had been made behind her back.

She resigned from the charity shortly after this and explained her grievances in a letter. The respondent did not seek to discuss the matter or address her grievances.

Employment Judge Roper said in a decision last week: “The respondent was in fundamental breach of contract in respect of the implied term that an employer will not without reasonable cause act in a way which is calculated or likely to destroy or seriously damage the trust and confidence between employer and employee.

“There was both a cumulative breach in respect of the combination of the first, second and third incidents, and in any event a fundamental breach at the time of the claimant’s resignation, particularly the trustees’ failure to acknowledge or act upon a request from their own CEO for an urgent meeting to discuss her future.”

Smith was found to have been unfairly dismissed from the organisation and was awarded £26,578.88 in compensation, including awards for loss of earnings, ongoing future loss and loss of statutory rights.

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