£168k payout | Whistleblower’s bullying & harassment claims were leaked to accused staff, tribunal told

Curtesy Liam Soutar – HR Grapevine

A whistle blower was awarded £168k after his concerns about bullying, racism, and sexual harassment were leaked to colleagues, including one who was named in the report, a tribunal heard.

Martyn Diamond Black presented evidence of “inappropriate sexual advances towards an employee, of a culture of harassment, of a culture of bullying, of breaches of Covid-19 quarantine measures [and] of racism in hiring” within the Bangalore offices of Alain Charles Publishing, a London-based publisher.

But the findings of his report were not properly investigated by Black’s manager, who was said to have a “striking” and “obvious loyalty” to the employee at the centre of the allegations, according to an employment judge.

Black, the company’s manager of Health, Safety and Security Forums, began investigating after he was approached by colleagues in their Bangalore office, about several disparaging reviews on the website Glassdoor.

He raised the matter with the firm’s Managing Director, Nick Fordham, who asked him to compile a written report on his interviews with staff members.

Black, a former Senior Non-Commissioned Officer with the British Army, produced a 31-page report which recommended that a member of staff at the centre of accusations, Ms S Subramanian, be suspended while HR launched an investigation.

However, Black was soon told by numerous employees that the content of the report had been shared with them or leaked to them. He told the tribunal he was “aghast” at this, and more so when he came to believe that the report or its contents had been shared with Ms Subramanian.

This led Black to tender his resignation.

An employment tribunal found that Fordham had failed to properly investigate the report. Black also said he felt “gaslighted”, marginalised and isolated and was demoted without any warning or consultation. He found that his role became increasingly untenable so resigned from the post before filing a case against Alain Charles for wrongful treatment.

The tribunal ruled that Black had been subject to unfair and wrongful dismissal, and experienced detriment and victimisation for whistleblowing while working at Alain Charles.

The employment judge said: “… the respondent [Fordham] did commit a fundamental breach of the claimant’s [Black] contract of employment. The marginalisation and undermining of his role were in breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence… the claimant was excluded from meetings to which he would hitherto have been invited…the Respondent breached the Claimant’s contract of employment… the Claimant was entitled to resign because of these breaches.”

The court also stated: “We are persuaded that [Fordham] did try to denigrate [Black]. He spoke of him during the hearing at times in a condescending tone and admitted having used strong language about him. The contrast between this and the animated way in which he spoke about the India Office Manager [Subramanian], and obvious loyalty he felt towards her, was striking”.

The court accepted that Black had a genuine belief that his confidential report was reasonable and made in the public interest.

The court ordered Alain Charles Publishing to pay Black £167,942 compensation including loss of earnings.

Should workers be worried about the repercussions of speaking up?

There are big issues for HR to consider around the repercussions employees might face if they blow the whistle on workplace issues.

Protection for UK whistle blowers like Mr Black is provided under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA, part of the Employment Rights Act 1996. The legislation protects employees and workers who blow the whistle about wrongdoing.

As per Reuters news agency’s Practical Law page, employees who make “protected disclosures” under the Disclosure Act can claim unfair dismissal if their contracts are terminated as a result of their whistleblowing.

They are also protected from other potential punishments such as a refusal to offer promotion, facilities or training opportunities.

However, only certain kinds of disclosure qualify for protection under the PIDA. These are known as “qualifying disclosures” and must relate to one of the following:

  • A criminal offence
  • A breach of a legal obligation
  • A miscarriage of justice
  • A danger to any individual’s health or safety
  • Damage to the environment
  • Deliberate covering up of information relating to any of the above.

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