Cleaner accused of 'throwing a sicky' was unfairly dismissed

The Employment Tribunal has ruled that a cleaner was unfairly dismissed after she resigned because her employer accusing her of lying about her illness.

The case involved Pamela Wynn Newcombe, who was employed by Machynlleth Town Council from 2013 to 2019.

In 2017, she became involved in a dispute over plans to alter her working hours. Her union representative pursued the matter but didn’t receive a reply to his communications. 

Eventually the town clerk, Mr J Griffiths, alleged that Newcombe had made derogatory posts on social media including that she was not sorry to have left work early to have a Friday evening out.

Griffiths said Newcombe had been ill for a week but was “miraculously better on a Friday night and was seen by all out on a bender”.

When Newcombe noticed a question mark next to her medical absence on the sign in sheet she made a new complaint of bullying.

However, Griffiths responded by telling the union representative that Newcombe was “notorious for throwing a sicky”.

Newcombe began to suffer from anxiety due to the accusations and took time off work. She had a meeting with Griffiths and said she would be willing to get documentation from her doctor.

Griffiths wrote to the doctor and accused Newcombe of being dishonest and that any stress she was suffering was due to her relationship with her partner.

The council contacted an occupational health provider who spoke to Newcombe and concluded that her stress and absence were due to workplace issues.

The health provider recommended mediation, but the council invited Newcombe to a medical capability hearing and let her know it could lead to her dismissal.

Before the hearing took place, Newcombe’s doctor told her about Griffiths’ letter. She filed a grievance with an external HR advisor, but no action was taken against Griffiths.

Newcombe was invited to more hearings and reviews of her “full history of work-related stress” but didn’t attend due to poor health and the fact the meetings were called at short notice.

Newcombe handed in her resignation and brought a claim of unfair dismissal against the council.

The Tribunal ruled in her favour. Judge Powell said: “There was an intentional blocking of [Newcombe’s] complaints by the senior manager and an unwillingness to allow her to express them as a cause of her stress and anxiety.”

He added that the council’s actions “amounted to a cumulative repudiatory breach of the implied term of trust and confidence”.

Newcombe was awarded £11,606 compensation to cover her loss of earnings and loss of statutory rights.

Please contact us for more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law.

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