‘Boss tried to break me’
BBC File on 4 has been reporting the case of a senior doctor awarded an eye watering £3.2m by a tribunal when she won her whistleblowing claim against the Manx government.
Dr Ranson’s case, based on a BBC interview, is described in more detail on the BBC website, and you can read the full report on the BBC news feed: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-67565498
Employee bullied after making protected disclosure
The crux of this case concerns her manager’s treatment of her after a difference of opinion, which included Dr Ranson expressing her concerns about the Manx government’s approach to closing its borders early in the pandemic. The tribunal concluded that Dr Ranson was effectively bullied out of her job, noting in particular:
- (Her manager) telling colleagues that Dr Ranson “agreed” she was not fit to perform her role
- Refusing to let her use the toilet during an online meeting
- Insisting on a non-urgent, almost five-hour, one-to-one meeting late into the night
- Denying a request by Dr Ranson for her deputy to chair a meeting so she could attend her orchestral practice
The final straw was when she was told to move office – her new smaller office did not have a computer or a phone, but did have a broken chair. Her boss, Kathryn Magson, the chief executive of the Isle of Man’s Department of Health, appeared to celebrate the apparent deliberate insult in an email to her colleague which said “Goodness. Does she have a desk?????”
The tribunal described Dr Ranon’s boss Miss Magson as “spiteful”, “self-serving”, and showing a “callous lack of care” -…..they added that she “should be held to account for her actions”. The BBC noted that she remains in employment in the NHS.
It’s hard to know where to start when analysing the learning from this case.
Tax payers to pick up £4m costs and award
Whilst I’m sure that Miss Magson’s behaviour is not representative of the whole service, my own brief exposure to the public sector revealed a similarly toxic culture. Around 2007 I was asked to advise on the transfer of 200+ jobs from one government department to another. I couldn’t understand why the department existed at all –even the trade union representing the department’s workers commented when it learnt of the potential closure of the department, ‘few will notice, less will care.’
Senior managers their created a culture of secrecy and fear & the public money wasted was hard to stomach. It was clear from the outset that my decisions and advice were required to fit in with and support established protocol and, when I questioned this, I was soon on my way. Dr Ranson has my sympathy, I was lucky enough to be able to easily move on, but as an employee Dr Ranson would have had limited options.
The fact that Dr Ranson was awarded such a huge sum will be of little consequence to Miss Magson, or the Isle of Mann government, since neither has any responsibility for earning any of the £3.2m, or the £0.9m the Manx government spent defending what was clearly indefensible. The burden for the £4.1m of legal fees and awards will of course fall to their tax payers.
What can employers learn from this case?
Back to the learnings, this case gives (if it was really needed) several examples of the types of behaviour that a court will regard as unacceptable. As this behaviour was triggered by Dr Ranson’s expressing concerns about government decisions during Covid, it was clear that her reporting her concerns amounted to a protected disclosure, and the requirement not to be subjected to detriment was also triggered – Miss Magson’s actions were regarded by the tribunal as being deliberate attempts to cause detriment. Worth noting that when protected disclosures are proved, the normal 2 year rule on bringing an unfair dismissal claim is bypassed.
On the evidence the tribunal concluded that, irrespective of how Dr Ranson’s employment ended, she would have been entitled to view herself as having been constructively dismissed and in the event, was unfairly dismissed.
It may be that Dr Ranson was offered a settlement and refused in order to have her day in court and a public vindication of her position (we’ll never know), but quite why her employer squandered nearly £1m in defence costs in the light of the evidence is unfathomable – we can only assume it comes back to the lack of accountability for tax payer’s money I mentioned earlier, because if ever there was a case for an employer to hold its hands up and ask the judge to move on to determine suitable remedy, this looked like being the one.
Summary & top tips
So, the moral of this story for employers faced with the challenge of creating their own profits:
- If you disagree with a staff member’s view, talk it through, agree to disagree if necessary, but let the end of the discussion be the end of the matter
- Never subject or allow an employee to be subjected to humiliation or bullying, or other detriment where a protected disclosure is the cause
- If you really can’t work with someone, consider offering a professionally presented settled exit proposal (myHRdept have handled many cases of senior employees who can’t work together)
- ….and if you find yourself in receipt of a justifiable claim against you, talk to us about the most expedient & cost-effective way of accepting that you might just have got this one wrong – don’t fall into the trap of pursuing lost causes.
If you’re thinking of outsourcing your HR or employment law needs, why not contact myHRdept? Call us on 01628 820515, email us at email@example.com to discuss your requirements, or contact us via our website and we’ll call you back.