Director unfairly dismissed office assistant because her husband quit the same firm to open ‘rival business’, tribunal rules

Judge says the redundancy was conducted out of ‘fear’ her spouse would set up in competition

Credit: Syahrir Maulana/iStockphoto, Rambo182/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

An employer made an office assistant redundant soon after her husband left the same company, as he feared he was setting up a rival company, a tribunal has heard. 

The Cardiff tribunal found that UK Atlantis unfairly dismissed Mrs Stratham (Mrs S) when Mr Stratham (Mr S) quit his job, and ruled that the main reason was company director Mr Daley’s fears that she had knowledge of her husband’s business. 

It also heard that Daley argued he acted fairly when he stood by Mrs S’s desk and “repeatedly” asked her to sign a settlement agreement – which she refused to do. 

Background 

The tribunal heard that Mrs S, who had worked for UK Atlantis from August 2015 until her dismissal in April 2022, worked alongside her husband, Mr S.

On 10 January 2021, Mr S told Daley that he “would not” work with him anymore, but the tribunal does not detail why this exchange happened. 

Later that day, the tribunal heard that Daley told Mrs S her husband had “resigned” from the company and that he was going to “make her redundant”. 

However, the tribunal said after a “week” Daley and Mr S “reconciled” and Daley told Mrs S her job was “safe” and that she was “no longer being made redundant”. 

On 14 March 2022, Mr S again told Daley that he no longer wished to work for him. Daley responded by saying Mrs S would be made redundant as a result. 

The tribunal said Mrs S did not receive any information about her redundancy, but agreed to work her six weeks’ notice. 

On 20 April, the tribunal heard Daley gave Mrs S a settlement agreement to sign. She claimed he “stood by her desk and repeatedly asked her to sign it”. When she refused, Daley told her to finish her employment on that day.

The tribunal said this was a dismissal and that Mrs S was dismissed. She did not receive any redundancy payment from UK Atlantis, and also appealed the redundancy decision but did not get any response. 

Judge’s comments

Employment judge EJ Brady said the principle for dismissal was not redundancy.  

Daley told the tribunal Mr S was setting up “his own rival business”, and Judge Brady concluded that Mrs S’s dismissal was a result of Daley’s “fears about her possible knowledge of her husband’s business”, not because her position was redundant. 

Brady said the dismissal was unfair because no fair redundancy procedure was followed and no redundancy payment was made – but Daley said he believed he “acted fairly” when he asked Mrs S to sign the settlement form. 

Mrs S was awarded £17,235. 

Employment lawyer’s reaction 

Antonio Fletcher, head of employment at Whitehead Monckton, pointed out that no evidence was heard from the employer because their “response was struck out”. 

Fletcher said that in “very general terms” it was important that employers “reflect on what the reasons for dismissal are, consider whether they fit within the six categories of potentially fair reasons for dismissal, and follow a fair process prior to dismissal based on the reason”. 

UK Atlantis has been contacted for comment. Mrs S could not be reached.