The Government first announced plans for a shared ownership right to buy in October 2019. At the time the sector raised concerns about the impact the plans would have on housing associations ability to borrow. An election and a pandemic later the Government announced, during the CIH Housing Festival last week, the return of the right to shared ownership as part of its Affordable Homes Programme (AHP).
Under the UK legislation, a worker must not be treated detrimentally by their employer because they’ve blown the whistle, ie. made a protected disclosure. If the employee is dismissed because they’ve made a protected disclosure, their dismissal will be automatically unfair.
The case of Royal Mail v Jhuti looked at the fairness of a dismissal where the employee had made protected disclosures; but the dismissing manager was not aware of those protected disclosures when making to decision to dismiss.
Ms Jhuti commenced employment with Royal Mail Group Limited in September 2013. Shortly after she joined, she attended a customer meeting along with another Royal Mail employee, Mr Mann. As a result of the content of that meeting, she had concerns that Mr Mann had breached both Royal Mail’s internal policies and also the requirements of Ofcom, its regulator.
Ms Jhuti emailed her concerns to her line manager, Mr Widmer, who arranged a meeting with her. Mr Widmer questioned Ms Jhuti and suggested that she was mistaken, asking her to retract her allegations. Ms Jhuti did withdraw her allegation out of concern she might otherwise lose her job.
Following Ms Jhuti raising her concerns to Mr Widmer, she was then subjected to weekly monitoring of her progress. In February 2014, a performance plan was put in place by Mr Widmer and she was asked to disclose a list of her main clients from her previous employer. Ms Jhuti made several complaints to HR about her treatment by Mr Widmer and stated that she was being harassed and bullied as a result of making protected disclosures. These complaints were not investigated, so she then raised a grievance and went on sick leave. Rather than investigate her grievance, Royal Mail offered her a settlement package, which Ms Jhuti rejected.
Ms Vickers was appointed to review Ms Jhuti’s performance. Ms Vickers was not given any information concerning Ms Jhuti’s disclosures; however became aware that Ms Jhuti was upset about something. On discussing this with Mr Widmer, Ms Vickers was informed that Ms Jhuti had alleged improper conduct but had retracted those allegations. Ms Vickers was given no more information than that and was unable to meet with Ms Jhuti as she was unwell. On review, Ms Vickers made the decision that Ms Jhuti’s employment should be terminated on the grounds of her poor performance.
The tribunal found that Mr Widmer’s behaviour of subjecting Ms Jhuti to performance management, and Royal Mail’s offer of a settlement package, were detriments for Ms Jhuti having made protected disclosures.
However, Ms Jhuti’s claim for automatic unfair dismissal failed as Ms Vickers, who made the decision to dismiss, was not aware of the protected disclosures and genuinely believed that Ms Jhuti was a poor performer.
On appeal to the EAT, it was held that a decision to dismiss taken by one manager, but who was manipulated by another manager who did know about the protected disclosures, could be unfair. The EAT held that Ms Jhuti had therefore been automatically unfairly dismissed.
Royal Mail appealed to the Court of Appeal. Overturning the finding of the EAT, the Court of Appeal highlighted that the right not to be unfairly dismissed depends on there being unfairness on the part of the employer. The reasonable belief of the employer should be based on what the person making the decision to dismiss actually knew, not what knowledge ought to be attributed to them. Where there has been unfair, or even unlawful, conduct on the part of colleagues or managers is not relevant unless it can be properly attributed to the employer.
This case is an important one, as it affirms that the right not to be unfairly dismissed is based upon the reasonable belief of the employer and not subject to the vagaries of which manager knew what at any given time. However, the Court of Appeal’s decision also left open that a decision taken by one manager to dismiss could be unfair if it is manipulated by another manager with some responsibility for the investigation, or by someone in a senior role in the organisation.
For schools and academies, the key take home point from this case is to ensure that in investigating an employee’s grievance or in reaching a decision to dismiss, the decision-maker alone should decide on the outcome. It is also worth remembering that where a decision-maker does need support with an investigation or disciplinary process, internal communications between the decision-maker and HR or other managers will not be protected and will be disclosable; and therefore manager should be discouraged for making comments in writing before matters have concluded. Legal advice will generally attract legal privilege.
For more information
For more information, please get in touch with your usual contact in our Employment Team or speak to Rebecca Reid. You can find out more about our employment work on our website.
Two final pieces of the possession jigsaw have been published on 15 September 2020. Mr Justice Knowles’ working group on possession proceedings has issued its guidance on the “overall arrangements” for possession proceedings.
One change proposed by the Building Safety Bill is the introduction of a duty holder regime, which will see statutory responsibility for the safety of higher risk buildings placed on key individuals
Throughout this pandemic, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has been publishing various “Statements on Coronavirus” (Statements) which provide guidance on consumer rights during this time.
A recent increase in COVID-19 cases in the UK means new measures are being put in place in an effort to reduce the risk of a second wave. Whilst the impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt, it is important to remain focused on the sector’s road to recovery.
Sometimes half an hour at a conference gives you the reality that has been staring you in the face all along. That was my experience watching “Change is on the Horizon”
Following our recent e-briefing on Possession Notices, Helen Tucker and Emilie Pownall from our housing litigation team discuss the impact of the changes on social landlords.
Not only has the possession stay been extended until 20 September, the notice periods to be given to tenants has been extended in certain circumstances with some important exceptions.
The Court has confirmed that a party cannot withhold its consent in order to re-write the original bargain.
Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, building safety continues to be a key concern for social housing providers and their residents.
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