Trader was unfairly dismissed after calling out ‘box-ticking’ compliance procedures

Judge rules bank used issues with timekeeping as a ‘pretext’ for firing employee who aired concerns

A bank unfairly dismissed a foreign exchange trader who called on the business to tighten up what he described as “box-ticking” compliance procedures, a London employment tribunal has ruled.

The judge found John Banerjee was unfairly dismissed after he told Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) staff were “taking a couple of minutes to attest” they had read vital compliance policies that amounted to days’ worth of reading.

Banerjee raised his concerns after a town hall meeting where employees were encouraged to report wrongdoing, however Judge J Tayler said the bank’s actions “were the opposite of their fine, but empty, words” and RBC used Banerjee’s late arrival at work as a pretext to fire him.

The tribunal ruled the main reason for Banerjee’s dismissal was his public interest disclosure.

Banerjee began work for RBC in London in June 2015 as an emerging markets foreign exchange trader within the area of Fixed Income Currencies and Commodities (FICC) and held the corporate title of director.

Banerjee’s punctuality had been raised as a problem before he discussed concerns over compliance at the bank. He was required to be in the office at 7am, and the tribunal heard Banerjee “saw this as an aspiration rather than a rule”. This would become an “increasing source of friction” with his manager, Mr Adamson. 

Adamson told Banerjee he needed to be “at the office at 7am” in a message in September 2015. His late arrivals were raised again in a separate message between Adamson and Edmond Monaghan, RBC’s former global head of foreign exchange, in October, where Monaghan said: “One more late arrival after night out, and [Banerjee] can expect a written warning”.

The judge heard Adamson was “beginning to lose patience” after he sent Banerjee an email in April 2016 to “get to work on time and stop taking the piss”.  

Separately, on 7 April, Jonathan Hunter – RBC’s global head of FICC – held a town hall meeting. He stated it was “not acceptable to know that something was wrong and to say nothing”, and that “don’t ask don’t tell (DADT) will not be tolerated”. 

Banerjee sent an email to Hunter, Monaghan and senior member of FICC four days after the town hall, raising concerns RBC had a “box-ticking culture” when it came to its policies and procedures. 

He said it was likely “a significant number of employees were attesting to having read policies that they had not read carefully, or at all”, and claimed it took him a number of days to read the documents himself. He also said there was a “likelihood that the bank would fail to comply with fundamental FCA [Financial Conduct Authority] and other legally binding regulatory requirements”. 

This email was “circulated to some of the most senior managers… almost immediately after its receipt”. But Judge Tayler said RBC failed to undertake a proper investigation and instead “shut down” the complaint. 

Banerjee’s employment with RBC was terminated in August 2016 as a result of poor timekeeping, and he unsuccessfully appealed against his dismissal. 

He brought claims of unfair dismissal to an employment tribunal in March 2017 on the grounds he had made protected disclosures. Judge Tayler ruled Banerjee was unfairly dismissed but acknowledged his lateness “contributed to his dismissal by 25 per cent”.

The judge added employers needed to “protect genuine whistleblowers, even if they find them somewhat enervating”.

Alex Bearman, partner at Russell-Cooke, told People Management: “This case demonstrates that even where there are genuine grounds for disciplinary action like repeated lateness, this will not always provide a defence to a whistleblowing claim. Employers should ensure that whistleblowing complaints are properly and demonstrably investigated.”

Banerjee told the Financial Times that RBC had “subjected me to a war of attrition” and it was “wonderful to be vindicated by the court”. 

An RBC spokesperson said: “We vigorously contested the proceedings last year, and we continue to appeal the decision”.

The tribunal ruled Banerjee’s losses should be calculated on the basis he would have continued as a trader until April 2021 and would have earned a gross total annual salary of £280,000. The judge said there would be a reconsideration of an ACAS uplift due to Banerjee’s contribution to his dismissal.