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£5,760 for employee who found work environment "unbearable"

£5,760 for employee who found work environment

Monday 13 August 2018

£5,760 for employee who found work environment "unbearable"

Monday 13 August 2018

A bookkeeper who fell out with her builder boss after he tried to change her working conditions has been awarded almost £6,000 in compensation by the Employment and Discrimination Tribunal.

The Tribunal was told that Janet Young was contracted to work 20 hours a week for Paul Sowney, normally between 11:30 and 15:30, although she often left early due to a lack of work. She was also entitled to 20 days’ leave a year, and sick pay.

In October 2017 Mr Sowney had an informal chat with Ms Young and told her for personal reasons he was going to scale down the business and would she agree to working around eight to 12 hours a week. Initially she agreed, but later changed her mind.

Over the following weeks there was a long exchange of emails between them. Eventually it seems a deal was struck and that she would work 16 hours a week. But, when the date at which the new arrangement was due to start Ms Young had not received her contract and so continued to pay herself for 20 hours’ work. Mr Sowney alleges this was an act of gross misconduct.

On 5 December 2017, Ms Young confirmed in writing to Mr Sowney that she wouldn’t be signing the new contract because she claimed almost everything in it had been changed in his favour, and had been made without consulting her.

As the dispute rumbled on, Ms Young claims Mr Sowney became more and more abusive to her, and started bullying her, making her life "unbearable." Eventually she says she had no choice but to resign. For his part, Mr Sowney strongly denied the allegations, but did admit he avoided discussing the matter with her because when he did so, he claims she said he was bullying her.

Explaining how it came to its decision the Tribunal says the first thing it had to decide was whether Ms Young had agreed to a new contract. It decided she hadn’t. The next task was to look at the bullying issue. Here, although the Tribunal admits it became a difficult working environment there was no evidence of bullying.

The Tribunal did find she’d been unfairly dismissed, and having worked for the firm for eight years she was entitled to 26 weeks’ pay. But, the tribunal can reduce that if it feels there are mitigating circumstances. In this case it felt there were: by continuing to pay herself for 20 hours she was ignoring her boss’s instructions. The Tribunal therefore cut the award by 70% to £2,496. It also awarded her holiday and notice pay bringing the total sum to £5,760.

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