Employment Law Case Updates: Ms Bickerstaff v The Royal British Legion
Ms Bickerstaff was employed by the Royal British Legion as a Case Officer. Issues in the workplace began when another member of staff went on long term sick leave. Ms Bickerstaff was concerned that she would be unable to cope with the increase in workload.
Due to these concerns Ms Bickerstaff emailed her line manager, Mr France, stating that another member of staff was needed to cover the increased workload. Mr France’s reply was seen as confrontational and unsupportive by Ms Bickerstaff, and she was warned that should she give lesser priority to an important task, she would need to be prepared to justify her actions should an issue result.
Following Mr France’s unsupportive actions Ms Bickerstaff felt it necessary to raise the issue of her workload to HR. Her email to HR was marked as confidential as she feared there could be repercussions for going above Mr France’s head. HR disregarded the confidential nature of the email and the email was then forwarded to Mr France.
In September 2015 Ms Bickerstaff had a meeting with Mr France and another colleague during which Mr France was confrontational and aggressive. Ms Bickerstaff raised further complaints relating to two other members of staff not working the hours they were contracted to work and spending too much time on Facebook. This claim was dismissed by Mr France. Ms Bickerstaff was then signed off work on long term sick leave. Whilst on sickness absence the HR department asked whether Ms Bickerstaff wanted to raise a grievance. Ms Bickerstaff confirmed she wished to raise a grievance and that she did not want Mr France to deal with her when she returned to work.
On her return Ms Bickerstaff raised further concerns over signed blank cheques being left in an unlocked drawer. Ms Bickerstaff was told by Lizzie O’Sullivan, her replacement line manager who had signed the cheques, not to come into the office or attend meetings until the matter had been resolved. The case has been heard at the Employment Tribunal who found that this disclosure was a form of whistleblowing and so Ms Bickerstaff should not have faced any detrimental treatment due to her disclosure.
Ms Bickerstaff was then signed off sick in May 2016 and later resigned from her employment in December 2016 after no resolution had been discussed to allow her to return to work. The Employment Tribunal found in Ms Bickerstaff’s favour, stating that “she was ostracised by those with whom she worked by reason of that disclosure and that was a detriment.” The ET found that “there was such a breach of mutual trust and confidence, and that the appellant resigned in consequence of it and in good time. There was, as she stated in the beginning of her resignation letter, no way she could see that she could return to work.”
This case highlights that a business’s HR department needs to be impartial when dealing withgrievances and should be giving advice to staff about what whistleblowing means in order to prevent employees being treated detrimentally.
This article is from our weekly Employment Law Newsletter published on 22/02/2018. If you would like to receive this newsletter directly and be kept up to date with recent cases and Employment Law news, email email@example.com.
This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.