Great grandmother awarded £24k after being told her great grandchild needed a good slap

After a company director told her that her great grandson needed a good slap, a worker who felt forced to resign has been awarded more than £24,000 compensation for unfair dismissal.

Mrs Lee-Shields, who is a foster carer for her great grandson, told the employment tribunal in Leicester that after a heated exchange with director Mr Bennet, she felt she was being forced to resign. Mrs Lee-Shields left the jewellery display company Exquisite Displays in March 2022 after working there for almost 20 years.

When her four-year old great grandson was placed with her by social services in March 2021 Mrs Lee-Shields stepped in to become the carer for the child.

The tribunal learned that she was under a huge amount of emotional distress, having to juggle her work and caring for her grandson, while criminal proceedings continued involving a family member.

Initially Exquisite Displays were sympathetic and supportive of her situation. They set in place several adjustments including allowing the claimant to arrive at work late and leave early because she had to do the school run for the child.

The company also allowed her to use a private office when she held remote meetings with social services, and it was agreed that she could take some work home with her.

In January 2022, the boy started to display extreme emotional outbursts at school, which resulted in violence towards other pupils and his teachers. Mrs Lee-Shields told the directors who had agreed to her flexibility about the issues in case she was needed to collect him from school earlier.

In the first few months of 2022 the frequency and intensity of her care responsibilities increased dramatically, and this led to a disruption in her work. The school called her regularly, as did the social services and this would take her away from work or lead to leaving early and arriving later.

Because they were falling behind with orders and needed to adjust the business output, her directors became increasingly frustrated with the situation, with one director, Mr Carvey, suggesting that she ‘give the child a good slap’ and saying that he was ‘just a naughty boy.’

During a conversation with Mr Carvey, Mrs Lee-Shields told him of her difficult day, with his reply being to ‘slap him.’ Mr Bennet also told her that she should ‘give him a good slap as this had never done any harm to my kids.’

For Mrs Lee-Shields the last straw came on March 10th 2022, when she arrived late and Mr Bennet, frustrated because they were behind, told her to ‘stop chatting and concentrate on your work.’

At lunchtime she received a phone call from the school to tell her that the child was being excluded and she should come and collect him. Some days before the child had been approved to be collected, and the claimant had called her son to collect him. On this day she went to the locker area to call him and ask him to collect the child again.

On returning to work she told Mr Bennet that the school had called and the child needed to be collected. Frustrated, Mr Bennet responded by asking ‘where’s his f**king dad in all this?’ Mrs Lee-Shields felt that she was not given a chance to explain that her son would be collecting the child.

Upset at this outburst she shouted back at Mr Bennet ‘I don’t know why you keep going on about his dad.’ To compose herself she went outside. 

On returning inside it appeared that Mr Bennet had assumed she had left to collect the boy. He repeated to other staff that she should ‘just give the child a good slap.’

On hearing this the claimant shouted at him ‘don’t you think he’s been through enough?’ Mr Bennet replied that he had been ‘lenient with her’ and she replied ‘you obviously don’t want me here.’ She left and later resigned.

While the tribunal agreed that the situation had been frustrating, they felt that the directors had made assumptions about the situation and that Mrs Lee-Shields had not been dishonest with them about her care plans.

The judge stated that the aggressive criticism towards Mrs Lee-Shields and her family, together with their frustration regarding her care commitments had damaged her trust and confidence in them and this had amounted to unfair dismissal.

Mrs Lee-Shields was awarded £24,725.35 in compensation.


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