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Recruiter accused of behaving ‘like a playground bully’ wins tribunal

A recruiter whose behaviour was likened to that of a ‘playground bully’ has won her claim for unfair dismissal after she was sacked for gross misconduct.

Vicky Wileman worked for Lancaster & Duke, a Leicester employment agency, from September 2014 until she was dismissed in September 2016. She joined as a recruitment consultant and was later promoted to recruitment manager.

Leicester Employment Tribunal heard that Lancaster & Duke was a relatively small company. Its two directors were described by employment judge Clark, who oversaw the case, as not having any “meaningful past experience of managing employees and particularly so in respect of managing performance or disciplinary matters”.

Clark also determined that, based on the evidence produced, Wileman had been a “productive worker”. However, James Weaver, one of the agency’s directors, told the court he had to speak to Wileman on several occasions about offensive behaviour and later conversations with ACAS lead him to believe some of her actions could have been classified as bullying and harassment. An email sent by an ex-employee after Wileman’s eventual firing also described her as “quite toxic” and “behaving like a playground bully”.

In a heated meeting about a month before she was dismissed, Weaver said he issued Wileman with a final warning, albeit verbally rather than in writing. Shortly after this, Wileman was involved in a conversation with one of her colleagues, Jayne Thomas, who also happened to be a friend. Thomas had been struggling with her job performance and told Wileman she was not enjoying her work. Wileman then questioned whether Thomas would perhaps be better suited for another role.

A short while after this, Thomas resigned; during the course of doing so, the conversation she had had with Wileman was raised. This lead Weaver and his fellow management team to discuss Wileman’s future with the company and, although the tribunal determined the incident with Thomas was merely a “catalyst” and the bulk of the concerns still lay with Wileman’s personality, the decision was made that Wileman’s behaviour amounted to gross misconduct and she should be dismissed at once.

Allowing Wileman’s unfair dismissal claim, Clark criticised Lancaster & Duke for failing to raise its concerns formally with the recruiter before letting her go. “I recognise how a small employer with inexperienced directors might prefer to overlook matters and fail to address problems at the time, and I take that into account as far as it goes,” Clark said. “However, there comes a point where even the smallest of employers must deal with issues and the size of an employer does not absolve it from the obligation to act reasonably in doing so.”

Barry Stanton, partner and head of employment at Boyes Turner, said: "This ruling shows how having basic employment policies and terms and conditions in place is essential even for the smallest of businesses, but that of itself is not sufficient. Those who apply the policies must understand the law that sits behind the policies and understand when and how they should act.”

And, Emma Gross, solicitor at SA Law, added: “When dealing with difficult employees, employers must record their concerns, take notes and above all conduct a fair and reasonable investigation. In the absence of the above, a dismissal may be considered fair, but not reasonable.”

Wileman, who has been awarded £7,684.34 in damages, said: "I am extremely pleased that the tribunal is over and I have, quite rightly, won my claim for unfair dismissal. I have been a recruiter for several years, have always enjoyed my work and have always had great relationships with previous employers, some of which are still friends today. I now just want to put this behind me and move on with my career"

Weaver said: “After taking legal advice from a top employment law barrister, we are very confident that mistakes in law have been made and an appeal will follow.”

Added: 10-08-2017
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