Importance of Documentation in HR

A recent case in the Central London Employment Tribunal made clear how important it is for paperwork to be up to date. When a member of staff is: promoted; demoted; changes job title; changes hours; and even has a change in salary; all of these should be reflected and confirmed in a formal letter, effectively altering the terms of their contract of employment.  This action, whilst may seem ‘a bit annoying’ or ‘a bit pointless’ is actually rather important. It demonstrates to your employees that you care, that you’re taking time over them, and from an employment tribunal’s point of view are up to date with your paperwork.

The case that has recently cost a university £55,000.00 was, essentially, down to confusion over what role the head office thought a member of staff was doing.  I daresay that there is more to it than that, but an employee had changed roles, this wasn’t formally stated or documented, the university then made their original role redundant. The employee sued for unfair dismissal – and won.

The copy below is the article that appeared in People Management on 10 October 2017 gives some further detail about the case.

The detail

A former college lecturer who was dismissed after her employer said it no longer needed somebody in the role she was originally hired for has won £55,000.

The Central London Employment Tribunal heard that Miss Anderson worked for Shillington College – a graphic design college with campuses in Australia, the UK and the US – from August 2011 until her dismissal in November 2016.

The college employed Anderson as a lecturer at its Sydney campus before moving her to Melbourne in 2012. In 2013, Anderson was approached by Mr Shillington, the college’s founder and chief executive, to work in London as head of teaching. Anderson accepted and was granted a Tier 2 visa to allow her to work in the UK. She agreed a salary of £50,000 with her new line manager, Ms McHugh, along with a relocation package.

However, towards the end of 2013, Shillington and McHugh informed Anderson that she would instead be a senior lecturer, rather than head of teaching. She was disappointed but agreed.

In July 2015, Anderson received an email from Shillington about her “poor decision-making”, failure to meet deadlines and alleged decisions to discuss confidential matters with colleagues, such as the potential of her role being expanded. Shillington alleged this was not the first time he had had to reprimand the lecturer, adding that he was “considering the college’s position” with regards to her role and placing her “on notice” following three warnings.

Later that month, Shillington wrote to Anderson again, warning her that he believed she had now reached the first stage of the college’s disciplinary procedure. She was told she could appeal the decision, although she did not.

In early September 2016, Anderson was told her job would be changing to focus more on part-time teaching and training other staff. Anderson was unhappy with these changes, along with the lack of progress she was making in her career.

Anderson raised a grievance with McHugh in October 2016, but this was rejected. Ten days later, she received a letter telling her she was at risk of redundancy because the college no longer required a head of teaching. Anderson raised a complaint about this on 10 November and was informed on 15 November that McHugh would hear her grievance outcome appeal. This was rejected and Anderson was dismissed that month.

Allowing the claim for unfair dismissal, the judge called the assertion that Anderson was the head of teaching “not sustainable”, and said the college could not “hide behind its own lack of paperwork or inconsistency” to blur events. The tribunal found it to be clear that Anderson was not fulfilling the role of head of teaching, and was in fact working as senior lecturer.

The tribunal also found that the college had failed to properly investigate why Anderson had not been meeting deadlines, which the college determined was because of a heavy workload coupled with a lot of students arriving at the college at once, and further exacerbated by both her parents being hospitalised.

In particular, Judge Norris criticised the college for its failure to follow disciplinary procedures, which did not make for a “professional or compliant way to go about HR administration”.

Keely Rushmore, senior associate in the employment law team at SA Law, told People Managementthat the decision “reinforces the need for employers to be able to clearly explain, by reference to contemporaneous documents, how and why an alleged redundancy situation arose, and to follow a full and proper procedure that demonstrates genuine efforts to avoid dismissal”.

Rushmore added that the ruling emphasises that tribunals do not take an employer’s assertion of a redundancy situation at face value, and will “examine the relevant circumstances leading to the dismissal in detail” if necessary.

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