Worker made homeless after removal of onsite accommodation was constructively unfairly dismissed, tribunal finds

8 Feb 2021 By Elizabeth Howlett

Judge rules holiday park operator made a ‘serious breach of contract’ when giving an employee and his family two weeks’ notice to leave

A maintenance worker who, alongside his family, was made homeless when his employer took away his onsite accommodation was unfairly constructively dismissed and a victim of breach of contract, a tribunal has ruled.

Mr G Mason, who worked as a maintenance supervisor for Park Holidays from May 2012 until his resignation in March 2020, was given two weeks’ notice without any consultation from his employer to vacate himself and his family from the onsite premises, which had been his family home for eight years.

Judge Ross said giving Mason and his family just two weeks’ notice to vacate their home “fell some distance short of what was required. The claimant had lived onsite with his family for eight years. Reasonable notice would have been substantially longer than two weeks.”

The tribunal heard Mason was employed at Steeple Bay Holiday Park near Maldon in Essex. When he was recruited, Mason was told by the recruiting manager that accommodation in a unit onsite “went with the job”. He also entered a contract of employment that included a mobility clause and an accommodation clause, which stated that the offer of accommodation may be “reviewed and/or withdrawn at any stage but only after a period of consultation”.

Mason lived at a caravan unit onsite with his partner and their daughter, who has a significant learning disability and attended a school for children with learning difficulties in Chelmsford. The nature of her disability meant Mason’s daughter required arranged transport to and from school, which the tribunal heard took “months to arrange” after the claimant started his role at Steeple Bay.

However, in October 2019 the accommodation became unavailable when Maldon District Council refused Park Holiday’s planning permission request for staff to occupy seven of its units during the premises’ closed period from November to March each year. The council permitted only two caravans to be occupied by staff during the closed season.

After receiving the council’s decision, regional manager Daniel Duffy agreed with the site’s general manager, Mr Airs, that the only two members of staff permitted to remain on the site during closed season were the park warden and the retail manager, despite the council’s report stating otherwise. There was no consultation with affected employees before the decisions were made, no written notification of the proposals and the local authority’s report was not provided to staff.

On 14 November 2019, Mason was given two weeks’ notice to vacate the accommodation by Airs. After giving Mason notice, Airs stated the move would be temporary and that he could return on 1 March 2020. Mason was then offered a further two weeks’ accommodation at the company’s Dover Court site, a two-hour drive away, but he couldn’t accept because of his daughter’s educational needs and his partner’s inability to get to work.

Mason told the tribunal he was “shocked at the news that his family had to leave their home”, adding that he was also “upset because no one in the company realised the difficulties that he faced in moving his family at short notice”, and that his employer was aware of his family circumstances.

He argued that the way in which management dealt with the decision to remove his family from the accommodation “failed to take into account any of the impact that this would have on his family”, or the need to rearrange plans for his daughter.

Mason applied as homeless on 15 November 2019 and after a “stressful period” found accommodation in Bradwell-on-Sea, around eight miles from the park. While Mason described the accommodation as “unsuitable”, he said they decided to take it “because they were desperate”.

On 31 January 2020, Airs contacted Mason to tell him he could not return to live in his caravan at Steeple Bay, a decision that was again made without any consultation. Mason complained to HR on the same day and his complaint was passed to Duffy, who replied that they would only be “offering accommodation to seasonal employees, permanent employees who are required on park for business needs for the short term and team members who have it included in their contract”.

Mason asked Duffy to reconsider, and in a meeting on 13 February 2020 Duffy offered him a new position with accommodation as siting manager at its Clacton site, as Duffy knew Mason had a house in Clacton that he was currently renting out. The tribunal heard that Mason accepted the offer as he had no other options and felt that it was “necessary to make the best of things and he did not want to be out of work”.

But on 28 February 2020, Mason had a meeting with the area manager of the Clacton sites and was told that he would not be doing a siting manager role as it was not available. Mason said he found this “embarrassing” as it was a demotion. He emailed Duffy to complain but Duffy never replied.

Mason commenced work at the Clacton site when it reopened in March 2020, and assumed his complaint to Duffy had been resolved but he found that nothing came of it. After two days working at the site, Mason felt stressed and that the situation was affecting his health. He attended his GP and was signed off sick. No regional managers contacted Mason to see if his complaint about the demotion had been resolved.

On 10 March 2020 Mason resigned, stating that he had “lost all trust and confidence” in his employer.

Judge Ross said confusion over the new role was “the final straw” for Mason, adding that “it was not a manager role when viewed objectively by me”.

He ruled that Park Holidays breached the implied term of trust and confidence by its conduct over the period from November 2019 until March 2020, as a lack of consultation on the accommodation was a “serious breach of contract”. 

Ross also said Park Holidays “appeared not to have considered even the possibility of consultation before selecting the two employees who could remain on site during the closed season, despite the report stating that it was not considered essential for either a retail manager or an employee carrying out maintenance to live on site”.

Mason was awarded £11,902.87 for damages of breach of contract, compensation for unfair dismissal and loss of earnings.

Alan Lewis, partner at Constantine Law, said the case highlighted the importance of consultation with employees before any decisions are made: “In this case there was no consultation at all, either at a formative or any stage of decision making. It is key for employers to keep good evidence of consultation in the form of meeting minutes or notes and feedback letters after meetings to summarise the consultation.”

Park Holidays declined to comment and Mason could not be reached.

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