Rather than receiving your post from Royal Mail, imagine receiving in excess of £2 million in compensation from them instead! This is what ex-employee, Kam Jhuti, has just been awarded almost nine years after she was dismissed by the organisation. The details of Ms Jhuti's experiences read like a case study demonstrating how not to treat an employee who has raised a concern. It’s almost too bad to be true!
Headline points before we look a little deeper:
- Any concerns raised by employees – be grievance or whistleblowing - MUST be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly and timely.
- Investigations must be carried out by an independent party without undue influence or pressure from another party**.
- Even where the allegations are against those in managerial positions who appear to be able to explain the concerns raised, conduct a proper investigation to ensure there is no merit to the allegations being made. Allegations made may make for uncomfortable reading. It is not a reason to ignore, coerce or harass the employee who made them.
- Any decision to dismiss must be made by the decision maker based on their findings alone – where possible avoid the dismissal decisions being made by those who are/were the subject of the grievance/whistleblowing.
- Performance management should be for underperformers only, not as a mechanism for getting rid of 'troublesome' employees – for larger employers, having HR oversee dismissal decisions could act as a safeguard against colleagues being subjected to victimisation for raising complaints.
Ms Jhuti was employed by Royal Mail as a media specialist in September 2013. Within a month of joining the organisation, she raised concerns about her manager and the incentives being offered to clients. She was concerned the incentives were contrary to Ofcom’s guidance on the matter. What did this result in? Not an investigation in accordance with the whistleblowing policy and procedure but rather repetitive bullying and harassment against her. Ms Jhuti was coerced into withdrawing her concerns and a sham performance management process was instigated. There then followed a period of bullying and harassment by her manager so severe that in March 2014, Ms Jhuti was signed off work with stress, anxiety and depression and she has not worked since. She was dismissed by Royal Mail with effect from 21 October 2014. The decision to dismiss was made by an employee who relied heavily on the reports of her poor performance from her manager.
Over the course of the last nine years, Ms Jhuti has fought her claims of unfair dismissal and detriment for whistleblowing. In November 2019, the Supreme Court published its decision upholding both Ms Jhuti’s claims. The parties returned to court after the remedies hearing unable to agree on compensation. It was this hearing that ruled that Royal Mail should pay Ms Jhuti a total of £2,365,614.13 compensation. Unsurprisingly, Royal Mail is appealing against the size of the award. Whilst the award is an unusual one given its size, it does demonstrate that the tribunals will enforce the whistleblowing protection that the law provides and not shy away from big numbers if the situation demands it. A lesson to employers to be wary of covering up their responses to any 'home truths' which employees may deliver in the hope that bullying and coercion will make the problem go away.
If you would like any further information or advice on this case and the headline points we raise, or the investigation advice and training we offer (as outlined below), please do contact any member of our team.
**The team at Anthony Collins can assist with your investigation work either by advising in the process or leading the investigation. The latter is especially useful when it is a large investigation into a complex issue with many witnesses. Alternatively, we can provide training for HR teams and managers on how to ensure your investigations and processes are fair and reasonable, independent and transparent and robust in the face of any tribunal claim.