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Wednesday 15 January 2020

On your case: Challenging a dismissal

By Laura Gilbert

After a different interpretation of policy led to dismissal for gross misconduct, a member tells Laura Gilbert how the FDA’s support enabled him to overcome anxiety and move forward.

“I came home in the evening and my wife said ‘you look grey.’ I went to the doctor the following day and my blood pressure was sky high. I got signed off with stress and anxiety.”

Unfortunately, things were to get worse for the FDA member before they got better, as he found himself dismissed without notice for gross misconduct after 40 years of service. However, with the help of his FDA representatives, he was able to secure a six-figure sum in compensation, after a judgement found this dismissal unfair.

The situation began in 2017, when the member was told by his line manager there was to be an investigation as he had potentially breached the acceptable use policy in accessing customer records. Years ago, he was trained to be on the lookout for tax evaders by checking if individuals were on a database, or if they were “ghosts” – people who should declare their earnings for the purpose of tax, but are not known to HMRC, and thus not paying what they should.

“Part of my job was to go out and see new recruits in the department,” he explains, “and talk about the fact we could generate our own investigation cases just by looking for ghosts. It seems now the department can’t do that any more.”

After two meetings – one the member couldn’t even attend, on doctor’s orders – he was dismissed. He tried to defend himself at his appeal. “I said this is all about whether HMRC believe me. I’ve looked at these records, I’ve done this for the business. If that’s not right, I’m sorry, and I won’t do it again.” The member believed he acted with honesty and integrity; his record was otherwise unblemished. But his appeal was rejected, despite the Appeal Manager saying that he was "not accusing [the member] of being untruthful when it comes to his rationale for accessing the customer records".

With the support of the FDA and its lawyers, the member put in a claim with the employment tribunal. “I couldn’t have had better legal representation,” he says, “they were brilliant.”

The judge found in the member’s favour and ordered he be reinstated in his role. However, his employer refused to do so, and appealed the judgement instead. The FDA and its legal team started negotiations with HMRC, to find a solution for this member.

He was then given three settlement offers, with the last being triple the worth of the first.

The experience with his employer had been a traumatic one, which caused mental and physical suffering. A proud tax inspector who found purpose in his work, the member also “suffered a considerable loss of personal identity”, as the role he had so diligently performed was taken away from him. Now, however, he believes he can finally begin to move on. “I don’t feel anxious anymore,” he explained. “I’ve got the judgement, it’s public, it’s there for anyone to see.”

The member is quick to thank the FDA for making this a reality. “Had I not been in the union, I don’t think I could have funded this myself.” From his first meeting, accompanied by an FDA rep, to this final result, he acknowledges that his union has championed him throughout the trying process. “I think this is almost a rallying call for people to drum up how important it is to be in a union,” he says, “because they can do this kind of thing for you.”

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