The Employment Tribunal has ruled that a Muslim bank worker was unfairly dismissed from his role of Head of Real Estate, after an incident on Christmas Day led to a “severely strained” relationship with bosses.
Judge Joffe found that the CEO and CCO of Gatehouse Bank had decided that they no longer required Mr Choudhury’s services because “they had come to dislike him”. This meant that as far as Mr Choudhury was concerned, the consultation was a ‘cosmetic exercise’.
Ensuring that redundancies are both genuine and transparent should be essential practice for any employer, with this case highlighting the significant implications of a discriminatory process.
The case – Mr J Choudhury v Gatehouse Bank plc
In December 2018, Choudhury was concerned about a company real estate asset and emailed senior management for clarification. A series of emails were sent back and forth, leading to Choudhury calling the CCO on the morning of 25 December, alongside further emails.
Later that day, the CEO (who was copied into the emails) responded by saying “Do you realise that for many today is a festive period and your emails could have waited until after tomorrow. Please think about this.”
This escalated into a “fractious” meeting in early January, where the CEO told Choudhury he was annoyed at the disturbance on Christmas Day, arguing that Choudhury would not like it if he was disturbed during Eid celebrations.
After labelling Choudhury as “arrogant” and “full of it” in a telephone call, senior management decided that some newly identified project issues should be rectified with a team restructure, meaning Choudhury would leave the business. In a call with a HR consultancy, many negative comments were made about the team, claiming that “getting shot of them once and for all is a positive thing”. During the call, the CEO indicated that wanted to “just make them redundant… not naming any names”.
A finalised restructure plan was circulated in July 2019, including a detailed timeline for consultation with those at risk. Following the process, a letter was sent to Choudhury informing him he was being made redundant and that the dismissal was to take effect immediately. He submitted a redundancy appeal in September 2019, but this was not upheld.
A “cosmetically satisfactory redundancy exercise” was created
When ruling, Judge Joffe stated that the telephone calls were evidence that the redundancy process’ planned outcome was to “dismiss of the claimant”. The discussions with the HR consultancy were described as “constructing a process”, which would look fair but ultimately achieve the decided outcome.
It was added that the CEO’s “intention to create a cosmetically satisfactory redundancy exercise” was apparent in his approach with the HR consultancy, in which he wanted to ensure that no names were mentioned in the restructure plan. The judge said that he had “already decided on the claimant’s name” but was aware that the exercise “needs to look like it is not predetermined”.
After reviewing these comments, the tribunal ruled in favour of Mr Choudhury.
How should employers approach redundancy?
In this case, Mr Choudhury held genuine concerns about a work matter, which he raised with his employer on Christmas Day. Regardless of anybody’s view about the timing of these communications, employers cannot attempt to victimise or manage out an employee who was raised genuine concerns.
In all cases, an employer must ensure that redundancies are genuine whilst ensuring that they follow a fully transparent process.
The redundancy situation must be evidenced by facts and it must never be used as a convenient vehicle for removing an employee with whom you are unhappy.
If there are ongoing issues with an employee, these should instead be handled through performance management and disciplinary procedures. Where there is potential for a relationship breakdown, employers cannot turn to redundancy as an easy way out.
The definition of a redundancy is provided in the Employment Rights Act 1996, in which four situations for dismissal are specified.
These situations are:
- The closure of a business
- A diminishing requirement for an employee to carry out work of a particular kind – this would cover both economic downturns and business restructurings/re-organisations
- The closure of a place of work where an employee is employed
- A diminishing requirement for an employee to carry out work of a particular type at the place where an employee is employed
AHR Consultants have a broad experience of supporting businesses throughout periods of redundancy. We offer training exercises and consultancy solutions which give managers confidence in their approach towards difficult situations.