A personal assistant to a well-established Jersey lawyer has lost her claim for unfair dismissal after a tribunal found she breached her contract when she decided to work from home without her boss's permission.
Central to Deena Jackson's argument to the Employment and Discrimination Tribunal was that she was following government guidance and that her employer, Senior Partner of Sinels law firm, Philip Sinel, had not been taking covid seriously.
However, the tribunal ruled that her unilateral decision was a breach of her contract that warranted dismissal, and rejected her claim.
The dismissal arose shortly after an announcement from the Government regarding work from home guidance in July 2021. Mr Sinel forwarded the guidance email to all staff with the single word ‘FOOK’.
A few days later, Ms Jackson sent an email to all staff informing them that she would be working from home from the following Monday in line with the guidance.
Pictured: Mr Sinel sent an email saying 'FOOK' to employees when the government announced new work from home guidance.
Mr Sinel responded, saying it was “not open to anyone to make a unilateral decision.” Ms Jackson did not respond to the email, and did not attend the office on Monday.
She was instructed by Mr Sinel to work from the office and warned that her absence would result in disciplinary action. Ms Jackson ignored the instruction.
“I am following guidance laid down by the Government of Jersey which is for my mental and physical health,” she wrote during an email exchange.
“Over the last three weeks your belligerence, rudeness and bully boy tactics have astounded me (and others). I am not coming into the office – you must do what you must do and I will do what I must do.”
In relation to her decision, Mr Sinel said he was “bumfuzzled” at first, confused and upset. Later he said he felt betrayed, dismayed, and bewildered and that she would be hard to replace. He felt she was being self-destructive.
A key aspect of Ms Jackson’s case was her allegation that Mr Sinel failed to take covid seriously. It was this alleged failure that she says justified her decision to work from home, as she was recognised in the office as being at heightened risk in relation to covid.
Mr Sinel argued that he did take covid seriously, however. TheTribunal heard that the firm had provided masks, vitamins and carbolic soap.
He also said that the word 'FOOK' in his email was not intended to imply a rejection of the government guidance. He explained that he is prone to expletives, and it was a way of saying, “bloody hell what are we going to do about this?”
In a judgment published this week, Tribunal Chair Dr Elena Moran wrote: “Even considering her four years of good service and unblemished disciplinary record, Ms Jackson refused to obey what I have already found was a reasonable instruction on the part of Mr Sinel to work in the office.
Pictured: The Tribunal ruled that Ms Jackson had breached her contract.
"She cannot have been surprised when she was told on the Monday that disciplinary action was to ensue. She herself told her colleague that a task she was undertaking might be her last.
“While there were other sanctions that Mr Sinel could have applied, it was not unreasonable to apply the sanction of summary dismissal.
"I therefore reject Ms Jackson’s claim for unfair dismissal.”
Ms Jackson also sought compensation for the late provision of her employment contract. She started working as a Personal Assistant to Mr Sinel on 27 February 2017 and was provided with an employment contract on or about 24 October 2017.
Article 3 of the Law requires an employer to provide written terms of employment no later than four weeks after employment begins.
The breach of Article 3 was admitted, and the Tribunal concluded: “The guidelines state that where the reason for the breach is not particularly blameworthy, there is no systemic failure and there has been no adverse impact on the employee the compensation is unlikely to exceed a week’s pay.
"I therefore award Ms Jackson compensation equivalent to one week’s gross pay in the sum of £973.”
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