In Mr A Courtney v AGTC Ltd the Respondent is a retail sales company which operates by way of mail order and internet sales. The Claimant was employed on 8 January 2018 as an Operations Manager. He was made redundant with effect from 20 April 2021.
The Claimant’s place of work was in the Respondent’s Head Office in Pangbourne. The Claimant suffered an injury to his back in February 2019. This required an operation, and he was off sick for six weeks.
After his return to work the Claimant’s relationship with his colleague Catherine Forbes Taylor (Buyer) deteriorated. In June 2020 Ms Forbes Taylor mistakenly sent two messages to a WhatsApp group chat instead of sending them privately to an individual colleague. The Claimant was a member of the WhatsApp group and saw the messages, which said: “Also his spares email made hardly any sense. I don’t understand why his situation is apparently so exception [sic]. All 3 of them have kids. Why is it so much harder for him?”.
The Claimant raised a formal grievance in which he complained that Ms Forbes Taylor had bullied him in various ways over a period of months. An informal meeting with the Claimant and Ms Forbes Taylor was held in which she apologised to the Claimant in relation to the WhatsApp messages.
In August 2020, after a period of “haphazard growth” during the pandemic, the tribunal heard that AGTC enlisted an external consultant to provide a more “efficient structure” to the business. It was decided that Courtney’s department needed a head of operations, but that he would not be given the role, which caused him “shock”.
The tribunal found the reason the organisation did not take immediate steps to terminate Courtney’s employment was that it was trying to find a way to do so that would appear to be lawful, including “close all ‘open’ cases from the past” and then “draw a line in the sand”.
On 11 December, Gilbourne (managing director) wrote: “If we just tell him to ‘go’ what’s the most we could be sued for? Of course, I don’t expect this is a financial [sic] viable option and he would be able to sue us for to [sic] much. Do we also have an option to say, Anthony, your job has been relocated from the office to the Sheffield warehouse. So we don’t sack him but basically push him to resign? While all of this is going on, can we drop his salary down to what we paid him when he started? At least we are not paying top dollar for a non-performer!!!!!!!”
During the period between August and November 2020, AGTC decided it would dismiss Courtney from its employment, “because of his perceived effect on the workplace and his perceived performance problems. It then set about finding a mechanism to do so,” Reindorf added.
The judge explained that, even if the reason was a fair one, the company did not act reasonably in the circumstances. “In this case, AGTC undertook no adequate investigations into the problems it was experiencing with [Courtney]. It investigated his grievance in early 2021, but that is not the same exercise as investigating whether he was having a detrimental effect on workplace relationships.
“In any event, the tribunal finds that the grievance investigation was not fairly conducted.”
Courtney was awarded a basic and compensatory award total of £2,020.37.
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