A charity worker at Mind Monmouthshire who reported colleagues for imitating people with disabilities was unfairly dismissed, an employment tribunal has ruled.
Mind Monmouthshire is one of the many independent charities that are affiliated to the Mind brand.
The claimant, Ms C Robinson, presented a claim to the tribunal on 12 March 2018 for unfair dismissal, disability discrimination and whistleblowing (public interest disclosure detriment and dismissal).
Robinson resigned from her role at the charity in a letter dated 1 December 2017.
In August 2016, Robinson had overheard and seen the manager of Mind Monmouthshire’s tenancy and supported living team, Jaime Devine, and other members of staff “imitating people with physical disabilities”.
She contacted her line manager, Steph Thomas, and phoned one of the other members of staff involved to make them aware of what she had observed. “The claimant was upset, shocked and offended,” the tribunal heard.
Thomas invited Devine to a meeting with Robinson where “he accepted what had happened but said that it was harmless banter”. Thomas asked Robinson if she wanted to make a formal complaint, but she chose not to.
Robinson said she had a past experience in the NHS where she had raised a grievance about misconduct, and that the process had led to her being off on sick leave and cost her her home. The tribunal found it is likely that the claimant did not want to have a repeat of this experience.
The incident was, however, then raised in a housing team meeting. The issue was further discussed at the claimant’s probationary one-to-one in September 2016.
However, Robinson sent an email to Thomas complaining that the issue had not been acknowledged.
Robinson completed her contract and started a new one with the charity in January 2017 as an information, advice and assistance worker. However, in March 2017 she started to develop symptoms of dissociation and suicidal thoughts. Robinson informed Thomas of this and was referred for counselling.
She was then diagnosed by occupational health in June 2017 with anxiety and depression, on top of her complex post-traumatic stress disorder.
It was recommended that she did not return to the same working environment and that consideration could be given to an alternative work location or role if these issues could not be addressed.
Thomas and Robinson met for a capability meeting in July. Thomas suggested she raise a formal grievance, but Robinson said it was management’s responsibility to address workplace culture. She complained that “the onus was being put back on her to complain” and queried how she could go through the grievance procedure in her current state of ill health.
Nonetheless, Robinson did raise a grievance in July about the mocking incident, subsequent behaviour and the charity’s failure to meet the occupational health recommendations.
The grievance hearing took place on 22 August. The tribunal found that the charity's response did not address Robinson’s concern that her treatment had affected her health.
Robinson appealed against the grievance on 29 September. However, the subsequent investigation, led by the chief executive of Newport Mind, David Bland, found there was no evidence that Robinson was bullied or harassed for complaining about the incident in August 2016.
The tribunal found that within the open-plan office environment, “there was frequent bad language and banter which overstepped the boundaries of acceptability in terms of equality and diversity”.
There was reported to have been racially and sexually offensive language and comments made that were derogatory to people with mental and physical disabilities.
“We found that the use of such language was not only distracting in an open-plan office environment but it was also offensive,” the tribunal reports.
The tribunal finds that the charity's treatment of Robinson in failing to escalate the harassment incident in August 2016 to its disciplinary procedure left her in a situation “where she was obliged to work in a work environment where there was frequent offensive banter and language”.
“We find that it was likely that she was implicated in raising a complaint about the incident because Jaime, the manager, was himself part of it,” the tribunal documents add.
The tribunal found that the claimant did make a protected disclosure by informing her line manager that she had witnessed an incident where members of staff had mimicked a physically disabled person.
Mind: ‘Appalled by the reported behaviour of certain staff at Mind Monmouthshire’
A spokesperson for Mind said: “We are appalled by the reported behaviour of certain staff at Mind Monmouthshire in 2016 and 2017. This is not the kind of behaviour we expect or tolerate from our local Minds and it does not reflect our values.
“Our local Minds are independent charities in their own right that affiliate to the Mind brand. We were made aware of the reported incidents via a complaint in 2018 and, given the seriousness of the allegations, met with the person who made the complaint. As the issue was already being taken to tribunal, it was not appropriate for us to investigate.
“However, we did conduct a compliance check of their policies, procedures and practices to make sure that they were meeting the standards we expect. By this time Mind Monmouthshire had already commissioned an external investigation and made changes made as a result, including diversity training for all staff.
“We are confident that Mind Monmouthshire is now a robust organisation that meets our quality standards but we will continue to take seriously any feedback about our local Minds, via our complaints procedure and whistleblowing hotline.”
Mind Monmouthshire: 'At the time the complaints were made to us, we took them very seriously'
A spokesperson for Mind Monmouthshire said: “At the time the complaints were made to us, we took them very seriously. When the incidents were first reported to us, they were investigated both internally and externally.
“We implemented the recommended actions. We have liaised with the Charity Commission in this process to ensure that we carried out all of the actions recommended to us. Since 2016, we have worked hard to make many significant changes after the complaints were investigated. More than half of the board members in post at the time of the incident have now left, with five new members taking their place.
“The new board has put in place an improved code of governance and has also completely overhauled our codes of conduct and practice. We have introduced regular equality and diversity training for all staff and we work with other charities in the local area to ensure we meet and continue to meet the highest possible standards.
“Because of the measures we have put in place, I am confident that we will not see a repeat of this sort of behaviour at Mind Monmouthshire.”
An anonymous charity worker describes their experience of working in charities where bullying was rife and calls for the Charity Commission to be able to do more.