A dinnerlady who used a council’s whistleblowing hotline to report her concerns about kitchen practices at a school has won £45,000 for constructive unfair dismissal at a tribunal.
Manchester Employment Tribunal heard that Neydi Vasconcelos worked as a part-time dinnerlady at Medlock Primary School in the city. She contacted the council three times in 2016 with concerns about the use of resources in the kitchen.
But the tribunal heard that the school took four months to respond to her allegations, and made Vasconcelos “feel like I was the one in the wrong”, and was “being punished for trying to do the right thing”. She said her identity as the whistleblower was revealed to colleagues and she suffered bullying as a result.
Vasconcelos made multiple requests to the council to transfer to another role but, when they were not given adequate consideration, she said she felt she had no option but to resign.
Allowing Vasconcelos’s claim for constructive unfair dismissal, the judge said her first disclosure regarding the use of kitchen facilities “was not adequately investigated”, and her second resulted in the resignation of a person involved in the complaint.
The judge also ruled that the bullying allegations “ought to have been investigated by management”, and that no proper consideration was given to Vasconcelos’s requests for a transfer to another position. She was awarded £45,000 in damages and loss of earnings.
The council admitted that Vasconcelos’s concerns were legitimate protected disclosures and acknowledged that her complaints of bullying should have been investigated when they were first made, according to the Manchester Evening News. It admitted wrongdoing and offered a ‘sincere apology’ partway through the tribunal, and accepted that her resignation because of her treatment amounted to unfair constructive dismissal.
A council spokesperson said: “We’re aware of the case and its findings and fully accept the judgment handed down.”
Leon Deakin, partner in the employment team at Coffin Mew, called the school’s actions “a schoolboy error”, and said the tribunal was sending a very clear message to employers regarding how whistleblowing employees should be treated through the size of Vasconcelos’s award. He told People Management that Medlock Primary School and Manchester Council made “basic errors in taking a long time to respond to Vasconcelos’s concerns, failing to take them seriously enough and, by revealing her identity, allowing her to be bullied off the back of the disclosures she made”.
Deakin said the regulations surrounding whistleblowing exist to protect employees who make protected disclosures. “There was no reason for the employer to reveal Vasconcelos’s identity and, if an employer allows that protection to wave, it discourages employees from blowing the whistle in the future. Employees need to feel comfortable enough to raise their concerns – accidents, health and safety and crimes in workplaces, for example, need to be prevented.”
Jeremy Coy, associate at Russell-Cooke, agreed that employers needed to create an environment in which they “treat employees who raise legitimate concerns and blow the whistle well to encourage them to reveal their concerns”.