Manager was unfairly dismissed after raising concerns about ‘chronic’ staffing issues, tribunal rules

Employee blamed for ‘pointing out problems but not finding solutions’ as he made protected disclosures 

Manager was unfairly dismissed after raising concerns about ‘chronic’ staffing issues, tribunal rules

A logistics manager was unfairly dismissed after raising multiple concerns about chronic staffing and operational problems in his business, an employment tribunal (ET) has found. 

The Ashford ET in Kent ruled that Mr R Mott, who worked as a logistics manager for a transport service provider from July to November 2018, was unfairly removed during a redundancy process after he made a protected disclosure.

Mott had raised concerns that his employer was breaching Working Time Regulations, offered inadequate rest breaks and was compromising the health and safety of its customers. 

Judge Mary Siddall said the redundancy process was “tainted by a significant degree of subjectivity”, and Mott’s manager believed he was more adept at “pointing out a lot of problems” than finding solutions for staffing and operational issues.

Mott worked for Secure Care, which provides transport services to NHS trusts for people with mental health conditions. In his role, he was tasked with managing the control room, looking after the vehicle fleet and managing the Hastings head office building. The tribunal heard that he had been brought in to try and resolve some of Secure Care’s operational issues and improve performance. 

The tribunal heard that Secure Care faced ‘significant’ recruitment and retention problems during the course of Mott’s employment, particularly among mental health transport assistants. There were also problems operating the control room, whose function was to accept transport assignments and deploy staff. 

Mott carried out a review of policies, procedures and operational activity. Additionally, he met with all the staff and become concerned about their level of knowledge of the regulatory environment in which they were operating.

On 21 July 2018, Mott emailed one of the operational managers, copying in the firm’s HR manager and its then-CEO Fami Sanusi, to inquire about shift arrangements for individual staff. In the email, he asserted that the current shift arrangements were “not possible” as staff would not have adequate rest breaks. He was concerned this would potentially place Secure Care in breach of the working time regulations. 

During the subsequent month, Mott made further inquiries and comments concerning the number of staff on shifts and the length of rest breaks. The tribunal ruled that out of the nine complaints made during Mott’s employment, two were in the public interest and one was a protected disclosure.

Mott told the tribunal he had understood that he had authority to recruit additional staff, but on 21 August he was instructed that the number of posts would have to be cut. He expressed his unhappiness about this in an email to Sanusi, copying in executive chairman Robert Taylor. In the email, Mott questioned Secure Care’s recent restructure and said he would not be able to deliver organisational change without the necessary authority to do so.

He also asked for instruction about the control room staffing situation, adding: “In further cutting [the control room] establishment and with the numbers suggested, I do not believe I can meet the control room objectives set… or provide the service required to our staff and clients.”

Mott went on holiday and returned on 24 September. He told the tribunal that when he got back he found that staff were unhappy as they had been working excessive hours and that NHS customers had complained.

The tribunal heard that on 25 September an external HR consultant proposed to Secure Care that four members of staff be made redundant, including Mott. Mott had been provisionally selected because he was on a large salary, and it was considered that his role could be carried out between the CEO and one other person. Taylor also told the tribunal that Mott had done a lot of pointing out problems but had not come up with solutions.

Mott said Sanusi had instructed him on 26 September to inform a client that the business had sufficient staff available to cover an assignment when this was not the case. He said he told Sanusi: “I do not work like this,'' and went on to claim that Secure Care was in breach of Care Quality Commission (CQC) regulations, health and safety law and working time regulations.

He said the health and safety of patients and staff was being endangered and threatened to contact the CQC.

The tribunal ruled that this was a protected disclosure as it brought explicit allegations of breaches of legal obligations that potentially putt staff and clients at risk.

On 27 September, Mott and three other employees were called into a meeting with Taylor and Sanusi and were advised that they were at risk of redundancy. They were asked to leave the premises immediately, return any company equipment and not speak to other members of staff. 

Mott was informed on 7 November that he was being dismissed, which he appealed. His appeal was rejected. 

He brought claims for unfair dismissal brought under the Employment Rights Act as he had made protected disclosures about chronic staffing and operational problems within the business.

The Ashford tribunal ruled that Mott had been unfairly dismissed for making multiple disclosures. It said the “implications of the staffing problems were raised by [Mott] early on repeatedly in the few months for which he was employed”.

Judge Siddall explained that Mott had “made it clear” that staff and patient safety was a matter of real concern, and said his disclosures were made in the public interest.

She said: “[Secure Care] is engaged in work with highly vulnerable clients with serious mental health problems… [Mott] had concern not just for the safety of these patients during transportation but also for the staff dealing with them, who were required to work long hours and whose personal safety was sometimes jeopardised.”

Alan Price, CEO of BrightHR, said the case demonstrated the seriousness of potential breaches of working time regulations. “Employers must be prepared to take on board any concerns from employees regarding this issue and evaluate if they do need to reconsider how workloads are distributed,” he said. “As seen in this case, trying to dismiss this issue or skirt around it could lead to further problems for the company down the line.”

A remedy hearing has been set for 7 October. Neither Secure Care nor Mott could be reached for comment.