Marketing assistant unfairly dismissed after employer ‘engineered’ redundancy process, tribunal rules

Holiday company was looking to increase its social media presence after not getting as many ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ as its competitor

A marketing assistant was unfairly dismissed after her employer “engineered” a redundancy process in order to end her employment, a tribunal has found.

The Cardiff employment tribunal ruled that Lyons Holiday Parks – which felt it was not getting enough ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ on social media – had sought to dismiss Ms Sylvia J Williams because of her capability and performance as well as ill-will.

The tribunal found that to do so, the organisation “engineered a so-called redundancy situation”, that throughout the redundancy process the company’s “notification of redundancy, consultation and consideration of alternatives were all defective”, and that there was “no real effort to find an alternative to dismissal”.

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As such, the tribunal found there was “nothing [Williams] could have done to save her employment”.

An additional claim of age discrimination failed.

Williams had worked for Lyons Holiday Park as a marketing and customer service assistant from 27 June 2011 until her dismissal on 24 March 2020. The tribunal noted that Williams had been performing her duties well, which included marketing tours and dealing with charitable events, and that she had a clean disciplinary record.

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The family-run company, which had begun as a caravan site, had grown considerably in the run-up to the events that led to Williams’s dismissal and, as part of its growth strategy, the tribunal heard the directors wanted to improve its use of social media for digital marketing.

In particular, the tribunal noted, the organisation “realised that it had fallen behind its competitors in such activities, including in the number of ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ of its [social media] postings”.

On 11 December 2017, the marketing department recruited a new assistant, Ms Raven, to whom some of Williams’s duties were reallocated. Williams remained responsible for all social media marketing output while training the new recruit. However, the tribunal heard that from around June 2018 until Raven resigned in January 2020, Raven became increasingly responsible for the company’s social media marketing output.

In July 2019, Williams’ line manager moved departments and eventually resigned, leaving the position of head of marketing vacant. Williams applied to the role but was unsuccessful, and instead the position was filled by Mr Davies.

The tribunal found that, during this time, the head of sales, Ms Kelly, had “taken against” Williams, viewing her as part of an inefficiency problem in the marketing department. Senior management, including Kelly, were unclear about how Williams spent her time at the company, and decided that she was working “within her comfort zone”.

The tribunal also found that Williams and Davies had a poor working relationship, which led to a bad atmosphere in the marketing department. The tribunal said management held Williams responsible for this, believing that she was resentful of Davies for being appointed to head of marketing.

By late 2019, the tribunal found that Williams was no longer part of the company’s long-term plans. Her working relationship with Davies had deteriorated to the point where there was “personal ill-feeling” between the two, and she had been “effectively sidelined”.

As all of this was happening, the organisation drew up a new business plan for the company which included restructuring the marketing department. Responsibility for the restructure was given to Mr Moss, a manager in the business.

Moss was told that one person would be made redundant in the department, with Williams, Raven and Davies all at risk. At this point, Raven resigned, but the company nevertheless wanted Moss to continue with the exercise.

Later, the company requested that Davies be removed from the process, meaning only Williams would be considered for redundancy. Williams was informed she was at risk of redundancy on 22 January 2020.

Following Raven’s resignation, the company created the role of social media marketing assistant. However, the tribunal found Moss had already been instructed by management to ensure Williams would not get the role.

On 24 January, Moss held a meeting with Williams but did not inform her that she would be unsuccessful if she applied to the new role. Instead, he carried on with the appearance of a consultation and consideration of alternatives to redundancy. Williams then applied for the role on 30 January.

The tribunal heard that the organisation had already invited an external applicant to apply for the role. This applicant was fast tracked to a second interview, where they were said to have impressed Moss with their understanding of social media analysis and targeted social media marketing. The tribunal noted Williams had not impressed to the same extent.

At this point, the tribunal found the company had already decided on the outcome of the redundancy process. On 12 February, Williams received a rejection letter for the position, and on 2 March, the other candidate started in the role.

On 24 March, Williams was notified that she was being dismissed on the basis of redundancy. However she was not informed of her right to appeal her dismissal. On 4 April, she requested information about relevant grievance procedures, but was told that as she was no longer an employee, this would not be possible.

The tribunal found the redundancy process was unfair because there was “no diminution in need for people” to work in the marketing department, and that the decision to end Williams’ employment was made on the basis of her performance and her relationships with her colleagues.

It added that, even if the tribunal was wrong about the reason for Williams’ dismissal, it was still a “foregone conclusion” as she was not given the chance to contest her selection for redundancy or an opportunity to appeal or raise a grievance, all of which was unfair.

The two parties reached a confidential settlement agreement in respect to the unfair dismissal. Lyons Holiday Parks was also ordered to pay £69.23 in accrued holiday pay.

In a statement, Lyons Holiday Parks said: “We appreciate this is an unfortunate situation for any employee to face, however, we must highlight that in an ever-evolving digital world, job roles and requirements do change.”

It added that the organisation “firmly encourages equal opportunities and we continue to employ and nurture all employees regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or background” and that some employees have been with the company for nearly 30 years.

Williams could not be contacted for comment.