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Accountant mum wins £13,000 unfair dismissal case

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A trainee accountant won more than £13,000 in an unfair dismissal claim against her employer after she was sacked for collecting her sick child from school.

13th Sep 2021
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Accountancy trainee Catherine Henderson won £13,080.55 after she was fired for leaving work at Livingstone-based AccountsNet to pick up her sick child from school.

After receiving the emergency, Henderson was forced to abandon ship to collect her child who suffered from an ongoing underlying health condition.

She was dismissed from the firm four days later after being signed off work due to stress.

Forced absences

Henderson was employed by as a trainee by AccountsNet during October 2019 on a full time salary of £18,000. 

Just two months later, she informed the firm that her child had an underlying health condition would require medical attention and additional support and care from her should the need arise.

In January, Henderson was forced to stay home from work and take care of her sick child. Her three days of absence were recorded by AccountsNet as compassionate leave for the first day and unpaid leave for the subsequent two days.

Flexible support

During this time, Henderson and the practice manager of the firm had a call to discuss what support AccountsNet could provide to help with the issue.

A flexible working pattern of 9am-3pm with no lunch break was agreed so that Henderson would be able to collect her child from school each day and then be with them at home.

They agreed that this would continue until 2 March, when they would review it again.

When the time came, the firm informed her that she would no longer be able to sustain this working arrangement; the report states that the practice manager described Henderson’s hours as “having a detrimental effect on the business”.

Henderson claimed that she was unable to work full-time and that she had rights in respect of flexible working, which the firm said it would consider.

The emergency

Later that same day, Henderson received a message from her child’s school informing her that her child was sick and needed collecting straightaway.

With no managers available in the office at the time, Henderson informed her colleagues that she was leaving, sent a text to the practice manager informing her of the emergency situation, and left work to care for her child.

A few days later, the manager received a message from Henderson’s GP stating that she was unwell and officially signing her off work for the next two weeks.

Unfair dismissal

On 6 March, AccountsNet wrote to Henderson officially terminating her employment. The reasons for her dismissal were:

  • Her attendance, as the firm noted she had taken five days unpaid leave and 12 days sickness absence.
  • The firm claimed Henderson had failed to follow the absence notification procedure, as she texted rather than called her manager when she had to leave the office.
  • Leaving to care for her sick child without authorisation was also considered as “gross misconduct” by the firm.
  • AccountsNet considered Henderson’s response to its insistence that she work full-time “abrasive and disappointing”. 

Henderson was not provided with a right of appeal, though she did write to her ex-employers a week later advising that she felt her dismissal was unfair.

She then sued AccountsNet for unfair dismissal.

The tribunal determined that the principal reason for Henderson’s absences were to look after her sick child and that she made her reasons for leaving clear to her manager “as soon as was reasonably practicable”. Time off for dependants leave is among the presecribed circumstances that can lead to unfair dismissals, so in spite of her short time of service with the firm, Henderson’s claim for unfair dismissal was upheld.

AccountsNet was ordered to grant her £13,080.55 for loss of earnings and loss of statutory rights.

Replies (5)

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By Hugo Fair
13th Sep 2021 17:57

It's always hard to comment when so much relevant detail is (by necessity) missing ... I can see at least 4 points at which it is possible that one or other party put a foot wrong (coincidentally 2 each).

But as set out, everyone's a loser - and all based on technicalities rather than any serious attempt at a negotiated compromise.

It sounds like there was no love lost between the parties ... as they used to say when a band member left a pop group ("musical differences, man") ... so the company will be wary of employing someone in the same position, and the complainant will be without glowing references for wherever she next applies. It's sad that there seem to be fewer and fewer grown-ups in business!

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By eppingaccountant
14th Sep 2021 12:13

From the information provided, my opinion is that her employer acted reasonably. This sort of tribunal decision would certainly make me think twice before taking on payrolled staff.

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Replying to eppingaccountant:
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By JamesDS
14th Sep 2021 15:58

I disagree, they were pretty stupid. They chose the riskiest method and the riskiest reason for getting rid of her and wasted their money. They could have just managed her probationary period better.

The Tribunal clearly noted that the trainee not being available 3-5pm "having a detrimental effect on the business" is bullshit, and the firm were just being dicks about it.

Their solicitor would have told them that their fees alone will have amounted to circa 16k to get them to court and should have advised them to settle. They could probably have comp'd her out for half the award and not looked like dicks.

They made multiple idiotic decisions and got exactly what they deserved IMNSHO.

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By Paul Crowley
14th Sep 2021 20:23

Coincidences really do happen.
Employee ask to return to normal working pattern, Child sick and employee developing stress all on the same day

But employer really needs some HR support. 1 person out of 13 wanting flexi causes business disruption?

Employee better off finding a decent employer and agreeing upfront what hours she can actually work

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By paul.benny
15th Sep 2021 09:31

On any answers people are rightly criticised when they attempt DIY accounting or tax planning - and then get into difficulties.

Looks like the same went on here with their HR. It's not too difficult to terminate employment within the first two years. But they went about it badly and it ended up costing them in settlement and fees.

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