Almost the entire human resources department at the Royal British Legion has left because it was “dictatorial” and “not fit for purpose”, the charity told an employment tribunal.
The judgment, in the case of Carolyn Bickerstaffe, a case officer at the Legion, found that she was “unfairly constructively dismissed” after whistleblowing, following a hearing in Southampton in November.
The judgment, published this week, says that Bickerstaffe had complained to HR about the conduct of one of her managers, and had raised issues about another member of staff’s decision to sign blank cheques - a decision which was in breach of a directive from their direct line manager. The judgment found she had been “ostracised” and “bullied”, and that a grievance procedure had not led to an effective way that she could return to work.
The judgment was critical of the Legion’s HR department, which it said had shared confidential emails and had handled the process “very badly”.
Mandy Heal, assistant director of human resources and organisational development at the Legion, told the tribunal that only one member of staff remained from the human resources team which had handled the complaint in 2015 and 2016.
“The reason for that was that was that the department was regarded as not fit for purpose, was dictatorial, not impartial and was unhelpful,” the judgment said, Heal had told the Tribunal. “That was certainly the experience of the claimant. Human resources seemed not to understand the meaning of the word confidentiality.”
Bickerstaffe’s case ran from July 2015 until December 2016, when she resigned, after saying that the Legion’s grievance appeal process would not allow her to return to work.
The judgment found that James France, one of her managers, had responded to her emails in a way which was “more of a threat than supportive” and had engaged in “bullying behaviour”. He also told her that raising the issue of a public interest disclosure – a technical term for whistleblowing – was a “sackable offence”.
The tribunal found that complaining about understaffing at the Legion was not a public interest disclosure, but that complaining about blank cheques was.
The judge and two lay members of the tribunal ruled that Bickerstaffe was unfairly constructively dismissed and her claim for personal injury succeeded, and that a remedy hearing would now take place at a later date.
A spokesperson for The Royal British Legion said: "We are not able to comment on the specifics of this case, however we review all grievances to ensure we are continually improving our internal systems and delivering the best support for all of our staff.
"The Legion’s HR department has undergone changes in the previous 12 months as we continue to modernise the charity in our drive to deliver excellence for all of our staff and ultimately our beneficiaries."