By Patrick Stewart, Head of Employment, TWM Solicitors.
A Suffolk Golf Club has recently agreed to pay £50,000 to an employee that it wrongly sacked after she brought a successful Employment Tribunal claim. The case serves as a warning to Surrey’s 100+ golf clubs, that:
• not following proper procedures;
• not seeking early advice; and
• not having suitable policies can have severe financial consequences.
Assistant Secretary (Mrs C) had worked at Aldeburgh Golf Club for four years. She had an unblemished record and had received two pay rises. When a new club Secretary (Mr B) was appointed, he immediately started finding fault with her work and within two months she had received a written warning regarding her performance. Mr B had set goals for her to achieve without any thought as to whether they were achievable.
Mrs C said she felt “criticised and bullied” by the man who was known for his dictatorial manner from his time at another golf club. Mrs C raised a formal complaint with the club Captain, but was told: “I do not regard Mrs B’s behaviour to you as bullying and there has been no physical violence.”
Mrs C then witnessed a married female club member, trying to squeeze Mr B's bottom in his office and saying to him: “Everyone loved the barbecue and I loved squeezing your bottom. Let me squeeze it again.” This followed rumours circulating the club that something had happened between the pair at a club party.
Mrs C reported the inappropriate relationship to senior members of the club. However, this was not properly investigated and shortly after Mrs C was escorted from the club and subsequently dismissed for raising the allegations regarding Mr B.
The Tribunal Judge condemned the club’s response to Mrs C’s bullying complaint, saying that it showed “amazing ignorance, naivety and a total misunderstanding of bullying and harassment". He said that it was not unreasonable for her to report inappropriate conduct between the Secretary and a married member and that the club had failed to investigate any of Mrs C’s concerns.
Patrick Stewart, Head of Employment at TWM Solicitors says this decision highlights the importance of employers following proper procedures in connection with complaints raised by an employee. He said, “should a grievance be raised, the employer should hold a meeting and investigate the matter. They should also communicate the outcome of the decision to the employee in writing following the meeting without unreasonable delay. Employers should ensure that they have suitable grievance and anti-bullying policies in place which are followed in every instance”.
Even if the golf club had not dismissed Mrs C, their failure to deal with her grievance could have amounted to a breach of the implied duty of mutual trust and confidence, entitling her to resign and bring a claim for constructive unfair dismissal.
In this case, even if the result of the investigation had found Mrs C’s allegations to be false, dismissing her was unlikely to be a reasonable response on the employer’s part. If action was needed, this should have taken the form of a warning.
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