Manager unfairly dismissed after ‘seriously flawed’ investigation

By Joanne Stronach Head of Employment & HR

A council manager who was unfairly dismissed has been awarded £100,618 compensation and reinstated in his job.

Mr J Thornhill had worked at Camden Borough Council for 37 years.

In 2017, the council was ordered to pay compensation over the mishandling of the tendering process for a contract to provide street lighting. It was Thornhill’s job to assess the requirements in the contract.

During the tendering period, his son was involved in a serious road accident which led to him having his leg amputated and spending a large amount of time in hospital.

Thornhill admitted his “head was all over the place” and asked to be removed from the project.

His request was turned down as he was the only one on the panel who knew anything about street lighting.

His manager twice sent him a pricing document from the council’s current provider – each time it was used to alter the quantities required to fit the council’s budget.

Thornhill had also helped an employee of the current provider to get rugby tickets while the tender process was ongoing.

The current provider won the contract and so the rival bidder took legal action against the council. The council settled the matter out of court and opened an investigation.

The fact that Thornhill had seen the pricing document and had interactions regarding the rugby ticket was key to that investigation. He had failed to disclose the communications with the current provider to either the legal department or management.

Thornhill cooperated with the investigation but was signed off sick with depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome. He was dismissed for gross misconduct.

The Employment Tribunal ruled that the internal investigation was flawed and that “no reasonable employer would have come to the conclusion that Thornhill had acted dishonestly and/or had committed gross misconduct in these circumstances”.

He had not been made aware he was being investigated and was unable to fully respond to the allegations.

He was awarded £100,618 for lost wages and reinstated in his job.

If you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law please contact Joanne on 01228 516666

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