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Charity worker wins unfair dismissal claim after being told by her manager that she had ‘gone above her station’ by filling in HR payroll form

In the case of Ms G Howson v Restore (Cumbria) the respondent is a registered charity which sells recycled pre-owned items in its shops in the Carlisle and Penrith areas. The claimant started working with the respondent on 21st June 2021. She was contracted to work 30 hours per week at £8.91 per hour. However, the claimant worked at least 35 hours per week from 25th June 2021 onwards but was paid for only 30 hours throughout her employment.

In the case of Ms G Howson v Restore (Cumbria) the respondent is a registered charity which sells recycled pre-owned items in its shops in the Carlisle and Penrith areas. The claimant started working with the respondent on 21st June 2021. She was contracted to work 30 hours per week at £8.91 per hour. However, the claimant worked at least 35 hours per week from 25th June 2021 onwards but was paid for only 30 hours throughout her employment.

On 2nd July 2021, the respondent’s Human Resources Adviser asked the claimant to complete a payroll form. The claimant did so and stated that her hourly rate was £9 which was what she thought was the rate she had been offered at interview. When the claimant told Rachel Nutley, her manager, that she had completed and returned the form, Rachel Nutley was unhappy at her for doing so and told her that her hourly rate was £8.91. She expressed irritation that the claimant had created more work for her and told the claimant that she had “gone above [her] station”.

On 7th July 2021, the claimant informed Rachel Nutley, orally and by text message, that volunteers were stealing from the shop, and they had verbally threatened her. The claimant also informed the respondent that there was a lack of a functioning lock on the back door of the shop, through which an intruder had gained entry. There was also no lock on the shop toilet which left the claimant feeling vulnerable.

On 8th July 2021, the claimant sent Rachel Nutley photographic evidence of rats in the shop’s toilet and mould in the shop and evidence of water getting into the electrics.

The same day, Rachel Nutley sent the claimant a text to say that she was increasing the claimant’s hours to 37½ per week. In spite of this, the claimant continued to be paid for only 30 hours per week.

By the morning of 15th October 2021, the claimant had been made aware that the respondent was going to investigate allegations against her concerning the closing of the shop and alleged inappropriate behaviour towards a trustee and a volunteer. The claimant was disheartened by the allegations and enquired about how much notice she would need to give to resign.

Later the same day (15th October 2021), the claimant sent an email to Karen Parr to say, “I am not sure I have being [sic] paid for 37.5 hours per week would you be able to look into this for me.” The following day, the claimant emailed HR in similar terms.

Meanwhile, on 16th October 2021, one of the respondent’s trustees, Eleanor Hancock, emailed the claimant to invite her to attend “an informal meeting to investigate” the above allegations.

The claimant replied by email the same day to confirm her attendance and to ask if she could bring a companion and call any witnesses. Eleanor Hancock replied the same day to say “this isn’t a disciplinary so no witness needed or allowed…it’s an investigative conversation about what’s been going on… if it seems there’s stuff to talk about formally you will receive a letter and a copy of the appropriate policy then, plus guidance on who can accompany you.”

At the meeting, contrary to the assurance about its nature that had previously been given to the claimant, she was dismissed on one week’s notice for the stated reason of “unsatisfactory time on probation”. Eleanor Hancock told the claimant that she was “not cutting it as a manager” and that she had gone above her station in querying her pay with HR, which was the same formulation of words used by Rachel Nutley after the claimant had incorrectly completed the payroll form on 2nd July 2021.

Employment judge Rhodes said that Howson’s complaint for automatic unfair dismissal under section 104 succeeded because he found her emails about her wages as “the principal reason for her dismissal”. The stated reasons for her dismissal, such as “unsatisfactory time on probation and not cutting it as a manager” were “not plausible”, according to Rhodes, as all the evidence suggested she had been “performing well”.

Howson was awarded £1,113.76 for the shortfall in wages.

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