The Employment Tribunal has passed judgment in the case of a former senior executive at the Co-operative Group who brought Employment Tribunal claims for whistleblowing and unfair dismissal against her former employer.
Kath Harmeston claimed that she had been sacked from her role at the Co-operative Group after she alleged that she had uncovered corporate malpractice at the retailer. She subsequently brought claims for unfair dismissal and whistleblowing against the Co-operative Group, alleging that she had been dismissed because she had raised with the organisation concerns that 70 percent of its spending did not comply with its own procedures.
Ms Harmeston was hired by the Co-operative Group in 2014 as Chief Executive of the organisation after the former Chief Executive Euan Sutherland had left and the business was on the verge of collapse, having discovered a £1.5 billion black hole in its finances. Ms Harmeston was hired on a £300,000 per annum wage to cut costs at the business, having successfully undertaken a similar role with Royal Mail.
Upon commencing employment with the Co-op Ms Harmeston hired a consultancy group, Silver Lining Partners, to help produce plans to cut costs at the organisation, but it was later alleged by the Co-operative Group that she had not followed the proper procedures in hiring the firm. She was subsequently suspended on these allegations and amid concerns regarding her performance and clashes with other senior executives at the organisation. It was also discovered by the Co-operative Group that she had left her previous employer, Royal Mail Group, after concerns had been raised that Silver Lining Partners, whom she had also hired at Royal Mail, had been overcharging the postal group. Ms Harmeston was later dismissed by the Co-operative Group for performance-related reasons.
Last week the Employment Tribunal passed down judgment in the case, dismissing Ms Harmeston’s claims for unfair dismissal and dismissal due to protected disclosure, but upholding a claim that she had been subjected to a detriment because she had made a protected disclosure. The Tribunal ruled that the Co-operative Group “deliberately failed to pay Ms Harmeston’s legitimate claims for expenses within a reasonable period” and, by doing so, “subjected her to a detriment on the grounds that she made protected disclosures.” In dismissing the claim that Ms Harmeston had been fired for raising protected disclosures, the Tribunal held that the Co-operative Group were already aware of the concerns that Ms Harmeston had raised and that her dismissal had not been wholly or principally on the grounds of her protected disclosure.
A remedy hearing will be listed at a future date to determine what compensation Ms Harmeston is entitled to.
The Co-operative Group commented on the claim, stating: “We are glad that the tribunal has supported our view. We fought this action because it was be right thing to do and in the interests of our members. We would like to thank our members for their support”
Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor at Redmans Solicitors, commented on the claim: “Businesses must take care to fairly, promptly, and thoroughly deal with any whistleblowing complaints made by employees and to ensure that the outcome to any investigation is also fair, prompt, and thorough. It is unlawful to subject an employee to a detriment or dismiss them because they have blown the whistle.”