Data analyst who ran a ‘sex work’ website and advertised his employer’s car park as his base for another business was unfairly dismissed, tribunal rules

Judge reduces compensatory award by 100 per cent for contributory fault, but says employer did not warn the employee or give him opportunity to appeal

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A data analyst who registered several sex work websites to his employer’s address was unfairly dismissed, a tribunal has ruled. 

The Croydon tribunal found that Karim Ahmed, who used the online alias of James, registered two websites in which he offered “sensual massages” for £25 at the “bright and airy” NatWest branch on Preston Road, Brighton. 

The tribunal ruled that while Ahmed’s compensation should be reduced by 100 per cent, Natwest unfairly dismissed him as it did not “discuss” the reasons for dismissal, nor did it “warn him” that dismissal was imminent. 

Ahmed’s claim of unfair dismissal was upheld, but further claims of direct sex discrimination, race discrimination, breach of contract/notice pay, wrongful dismissal and direct disability discrimination were dismissed. 

Background 

Ahmed was employed as a data analyst on 8 March 2018 until his dismissal on 28 October 2020 and had previously won an internal award, known as an “acclaim”, for his work. 

However, on 16 January 2019, Ahmed met with his line manager, Barry Latter, and data profiling service manager Aled Roberts to discuss “concerns” about his work – and this ended with Ahmed agreeing to double check his communications to ensure they were “appropriate and reduce the risk of upsetting anyone”. 

The tribunal detailed a series of conflicts and grievances, which were not upheld, revolving around Ahmed from February to November. These included: 

  • Allegations from his line manager that he was “difficult to manage” 

  • Allegations from colleagues that Ahmed called them a “big baby” 

  • Allegations from Ahmed that he was “betrayed” by colleagues after he discussed rumours that there may be redundancies 

  • Allegations from Ahmed that colleagues were “bullying” him 

  • Claims from colleagues that Ahmed left another co-worker “cowering”

On 21 February 2020, Chris Bouwers became Ahmed’s line manager and arranged to meet him to discuss concerns including unexplained lateness at the start of the day and lunchtime, leaving the office to go home during working hours, failing to deliver on work activities and failing to log on when he was supposed to be working from home.

Ahmed answered “no comment” to every question he was asked in the meeting, became “visibly angry and aggressive” and told Bouwers that he would “cause gross misconduct” against him. At the end of the meeting, Ahmed was informed of his suspension.

At some point in mid-May 2020, Ahmed parked two campervans in the NatWest Preston Road car park. 

On 17 May, it was alleged that Ahmed had behaved in an “aggressive and confrontational” manner towards one of the guardians of a neighbouring property, owned by NatWest.

On 18 May, Bouwers had a Skype meeting with Ahmed and mentioned that there was a “potential further disciplinary allegation” in respect of a business Ahmed was apparently operating called Agile Love, which was linked to from his LinkedIn page, and which in turn linked to a website with “sexually explicit” content.

In response, Ahmed accused Bouwers of “cyber stalking” him.

More information emerged about his outside business activities, including a company called Agile Business Development. Its website bore Ahmed’s name and photograph. It gave the address of the business as NatWest’s office and described it as having an “airy Brighton office with free car parking”. 

Screenshots were captured from Ahmed’s Agile Love website, which linked to a third business website called Skin Map, and the tribunal said he accepted the pictures were sexually explicit. 

The tribunal said the website “offered £25 online sensual massages” and Ahmed accepted he was offering “sex work” through both sites, which “gave his name as James”, and were linked to his LinkedIn profile – which also clearly identified him as an employee of NatWest. 

Ahmed was dismissed on 28 October 2020. 

Judge’s comments 

Employment judge Leith concluded that the working relationship had “broken down irretrievably” and the dismissal could not be “characterised as falling outside the range of reasonable responses”.

However, Leith added that the process NatWest followed to dismiss Ahmed did, as the bank did not meet with Ahmed to “discuss” the reasons for dismissal, “nor did they even warn him that they were considering dismissing him on the basis of relationship breakdown”. Leith explained that the “first time” Ahmed became aware NatWest was considering taking “that course of action was when he received the letter informing him of his dismissal.”

They added: “We are not satisfied that [NatWest] could not have met with [Ahmed] in the circumstances. While he had behaved in a threatening way previously, a meeting could have been conducted by video.”

The tribunal also said Ahmed was not given an opportunity to appeal the decision, which “would have been a particularly important procedural safeguard”.

“It follows that [NatWest] did not act reasonably in all of the circumstances in treating the relationship breakdown as a sufficient reason for dismissing [Ahmed]. We therefore conclude that the dismissal was unfair.”

But Leith added that “the claimant would have been fairly dismissed in any event” as the “relationship was beyond repair”. 

Ahmed’s “behaviour fell far outside what would be expected in the employment relationship” and “bearing in mind the totality of the blameworthy conduct, we consider that it would be just and equitable to reduce both the basic award and the contributory award by 100 per cent”, they said.

NatWest has been contacted for comment. Ahmed could not be reached.