Former Exmouth charity executive wins £26k in employment tribunal

PUBLISHED: 11:15 05 October 2020 | UPDATED: 16:37 05 October 2020

Exmouth Age Concern's Gill Smith. Ref exe 04 19TI 8696. Picture: Terry Ife

Exmouth Age Concern's Gill Smith. Ref exe 04 19TI 8696. Picture: Terry Ife

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The former executive of Exmouth’s Age Concern charity has won £26,000 after bosses failed to support her when a staff member verbally abused her.

Gillian Smith resigned from her post at Age Concern after feeling ‘undermined’ and ‘humiliated’ by the board of trustees following a series of disputes with colleagues.

This included a run-in with an office manager who she had warned about potential bullying behaviour, an employee who lied about owning a car to get a promotion and another who behaved in a ‘hostile’ manner towards her.

In each case, regional chief executive Ms Smith felt let down by the board, who had either reversed decisions she had made to have staff punished or took seriously complaints they had made about her.

Now an employment tribunal has ruled that she was constructively dismissed from her £35,000 a year job at Age Concern - where she had worked for six years - and awarded her a substantial pay off.

A hearing in Exeter was told that Ms Smith began working for the charity’s Exmouth and District organisation in 2014, and worked her way up to become CEO in April 2017.

A year later she saw the office manager and another colleague behaving in a bullying fashion and warned them that if it continued they could be disciplined, the tribunal heard.

She wrote to the office manager following the incident, telling her that what she had done was ‘accepted to be her resignation’, and reported the matter to the board.

But six months later the board called a meeting to tell her that the office manager had complained about her and revealed it had met her without Ms Smith’s knowledge to discuss her allegations.

The complaint was then brought up again during Ms Smith’s annual appraisal with the board in January 2019, despite Ms Smith pointing out the complaint had no substance.

The tribunal heard another dispute arose when an employee allegedly lied about owning a car in order to gain promotion.

The employee was pregnant, and the amount of pay she would receive on maternity leave would have been increased with the new role.

She wrote a letter of complaint about Ms Smith to the board, after the latter informed her she would only receive statutory sick pay.

Ms Smith responded to the complaint, writing in a letter to the Board: “She defamed my good name and character in a malicious manner... if you override my decision I will be undermined and discredited’.

The Trustees met with the employee, and sent an email to Ms Smith informing her that they had decided to reverse her decision.

The hearing was told the employee’s mother, who also worked for the charity, then became very hostile towards Ms Smith, so much so that four employees made complaints about how her daughter had acted towards her.

In July 2019 Ms Smith sought approval from the Board to dismiss the employee.

George Eamer, the Chair of Trustees, said that he considered it a ‘managerial decision’, and that the Trustees would support whatever she decided.

But the tribunal heard they later decided to allow her to keep her job, without telling Ms Smith.

“(Ms Smith) felt very shocked and undermined by this decision,” the hearing was told.

“She felt that the Trustees had reneged on their conversation with her just one day before, and had publicly humiliated (her) in the eyes of the staff.”

She announced her resignation in August, saying the behaviour of the Trustees had made her ‘angry, upset and ill’.

Concluding, employment Judge Nicholas Roper said: “There was a clear course of conduct by the Trustees throughout the three incidents.

“In each case they took a course of action which was contrary to that adopted by (Ms Smith), and as a result undermined her managerial position as CEO.

“There was no potentially fair reason for the claimant’s dismissal. I therefore find that the claimant was unfairly dismissed.”

Age Concern Exmouth & District were ordered to pay £26,578.88 in compensation to Ms Smith.


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