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Whistleblowing on foul banter sees charity worker unfairly dismissed

A tribunal has ruled that a charity worker who blew the whistle on her colleagues was unfairly dismissed. The claimant, after reporting co-workers for using foul language, along with mocking a person with a physical disability, was victimised and later unfairly dismissed.

Catriona Robinson told the tribunal that while she was working for the Monmouthshire branch of the charity Mind she overheard colleagues insulting mental health sufferers. Mind is a charity for mental health.

Ms Robinson heard her co-workers accusing mental health sufferers of lying about their condition. She further witnessed foul language daily, with her co-workers labelling mental health sufferers as ‘wastes of space.’

The tribunal was told that Ms Robinson heard staff members commenting on how unfair they thought it was that people who were awarded welfare benefits received more money than the staff were paid in wages.

While at the office in Abergavenny Ms Robinson witnessed a colleague doing an impression of a disabled person. She reported the incident and afterwards was ostracised and ignored.

After breaking down in tears because she was so upset about her colleagues’ banter Ms Robinson found that she was laughed at.

The lady that her co-worker had been mocking was not present at the time, and not one of the staff gave her a thought while they insulted her.

Ms Robinson told the tribunal that she was shocked at what she saw and heard, was very distressed and walked out of the office. In the kitchen she cried because she was upset and could not believe what she had seen.

A follow-up meeting dismissed the incident as banter and simply a ‘bit of fun.’ Ms Robinson, however, after reporting the incident found herself the subject of blatant bullying, being frequently ignored and the subject of rude comments.

After taking time off as sick leave an occupational health report suggested that Ms Robinson move to another area away from her colleagues.

While she was taking time off, Ms Robinson raised a grievance although after an internal investigation her concerns were dismissed.

Claiming constructive dismissal against Mind Monmouthshire, Ms Robinson resigned.

At the tribunal Judge Alison Frazier stated that the management had admitted the incident but not escalated it.

Ms Robinson was at that time suffering from health and personal difficulties, and although she did not push the incident, she felt that management should have handled the situation differently.

Judge Frazier said that management had ‘swept the matter under the carpet to save their own involvement in the issue.’ In doing this, they had failed in their duty of care to Ms Robinson.

The lack of escalation had continued until it reached a stage where the claimant was herself the victim of harassment, and ostracised.

The staff behaviour in the office was not kept in check. In fact, it was out of control.

The judge concluded that conditions in the office, with foul language and vicious banter had been a case of ‘overstepping the boundaries’ in what was acceptable with regards to equality and diversity.

Compensation for Ms Robinson will be decided at a hearing later this year.

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