Care Home Dismissal of Manager Costs £100K
Over the weekend the Daily Telegraph reported on a recent tribunal case involving Trentside Manor Care Home. The case highlighted the critical importance of obtaining and listening to professional HR advice when dealing with dismissals.
Care home dismissal – the Case
Marie Raphael, a former manager at Trentside Manor Care Home, won over £100,000 in damages for disability discrimination and unfair and wrongful dismissal, almost five years after her termination.
After suffering a stroke in 2015, Mrs Raphael sought a four-day week. Her employer, Mr Pargan Dhadda, reluctantly agreed, but shortly afterwards Mrs Raphael made, in her opinion a ‘minor’ error, which Mr Dhadda regarded as a serious issue, and commissioned a disciplinary process to look into Mrs Raphael’s alleged ‘gross misconduct’.
Let’s look at what went wrong for the employer in this case.
Keeping it in the family
The disciplinary procedure was conducted by Mr Dhadda’s nephew, and the appeal by his cousin. Neither Mrs Raphael nor the tribunal regarded the process as fair and objective, and both felt that Mr Dhadda became determined to dismiss her following her illness and subsequent request to shorten her working week, and that the disciplinary and appeal managers where beholden to Mr Dhadda’s desired outcome.
This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen inferences of undue senior influence over a disciplinary process as fatal to the employer’s case. A well trained disciplinary hearing manager should be able to remain objective, and should be free to make their own decision based on the facts.
In the absence of an internal HR department or of a trained, unfettered and independent manager, a fair process may have involved an objective 3rd party (like outsourced HR provider myHRdept).
Care home employer fails to consider previous record
Fundamental to any disciplinary process outcome should be the consideration of the employee’s previous record and length of service. The tribunal noted a lack of consideration for this.
Duty to accommodate disabilities
Mrs Raphael would be regarded as ‘disabled’ for the purposes of the Equality Act, creating a requirement for her employer to implement reasonable adjustments. myHRdept would have advised that a 4-day week would have been withing the range of reasonable adjustments an employer should consider.
‘Range of reasonable responses’ test
A tribunal isn’t entitled to substitute its opinion on a fair outcome for that of the employer, but will consider whether the outcome was within a reasonable range of possible outcomes that an employer might have been expected to make. It would be unusual then for a tribunal to declare that an employer should have given a final warning, instead of dismissing, because these two outcomes are too close together.
In this case the tribunal concluded that the outcome was not within a reasonable range, agreeing with Mrs Raphael that Mr Dhadda was determined to dismiss her, had jumped on the first opportunity, and that Mrs Raphael’s offence was not sufficient to warrant her dismissal.
Unfair dismissal ruling – reputational damage risks
It’s said that no publicity is bad publicity, but I’m not sure Mr Dhadda or the Trentside Manor Care Home would see it that way. Their treatment of their Care Home manager resulted in national press coverage, and the verdict is openly available to customers, relatives and other staff.
Employers should remember that the employment tribunal process is a public process, and while not every lost tribunal case will cause reputational damage, where an employer – as in this case- is judged to have behaved manifestly inappropriately, it can expect to appear in the headlines.
What alternatives could the employer have considered?
Mr Dhadda might have considered genuinely trying to accommodate Mrs Rapheal’s request – it’s not unknown for care homes to run very efficiently under the guidance of a part-time manager. At the very least a trial period to establish suitability could have been used (rather than deciding to wait for a reason to fire her.)
If the employer was determined to maintain a 5-day manager, another option would have been an exit deal, under a banner of confidentiality afforded by legislation. A properly conducted voluntary exit proposal (it is important to have advice here) may well have resulted in an amicable agreement to part ways without the adverse publicity, and probably at substantially less cost than the eventual tribunal award + defence fees.
Help and support from myHRdept
Aside from advising employers on cases like these, myHRdept support hours – which come with all of our HR outsource packages – can be used for advising or running settlement discussions, drafting & negotiating settlement agreements and managing disciplinary, dismissal and appeal processes.
The Benefits of Outsourced HR
HR has an obvious appeal to a smaller SME, being far cheaper than employing internal HR staff or engaging external employment solicitors. Larger employers benefit too, and myHRdept support employers with sizeable HR teams. We’re able to relieve HR staff of time-sapping ER cases, manage projects (e.g. consultations) and handle toxic investigations without the emotional toll internal staff might suffer. For many of our larger clients we also manage settled exits, acting as the employer’s representative during exit discussions.
Specifically in cases like this, had myHRdept been the employer’s outsourced HR provider, we could have advised them of the weaknesses of their case and of alternative options. Whether they would have listened….well that’s another debate entirely!