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Accountant awarded £13,000 for automatically unfair dismissal

Posted On: [13/09/2021]

In Henderson v Accountsnet Ltd [2021] Catherine Henderson began working as a trainee accountant for AccountsNet Ltd. She was dismissed for leaving work due to an emergency with a poorly child, in circumstances where she had been unable to inform any managers that she was leaving because they were all at a meeting.

The Law

Ms Henderson represented herself when she sued for automatically unfair dismissal under section 99 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA 19956) which covers leave for family reasons. You do not need two years’ service to make a claim of automatic unfair dismissal under section 99. That section provides that an employee who is dismissed shall be regarded as unfairly dismissed if the reason or principal reason for the dismissal is because of parental leave [section 99 (3)(c)].In addition, Section 57A ERA 1996 says employees must be given reasonable time off working hours in order to take action which is necessary to provide assistance on an occasion when a dependant falls ill, gives birth, or is injured or assaulted.

The Facts

Mrs Henderson told the Employment Tribunal (ET) that one of her children has an underlying health condition and required medical attention as well as additional support and care. She had already informed her bosses of her child's condition in January 2020, when she told bosses she would be absent from work for three days to care for them.

Mrs Henderson agreed a flexible working pattern with her line manager, under which she would work from am until 3pm with no lunch break so she could be home for her child when school finished. Two months later on Mrs Henderson's first day back in the office after a week's annual leave, a formal meeting was called to discuss her hours where her bosses told her that her working hours were having a detrimental effect on the business.

But Mrs Henderson said she was unable to go back to full-time hours because of the support her child required. After returning to her desk she received a text from her child's school telling her the child was ill and needed collecting. She informed colleagues she had to leave for the emergency situation, though managers were still in another meeting.

Later that morning her colleagues told Charissa Gracie, the practice manager, where she had gone, adding that Mrs Henderson said she would call her. Mrs Henderson later sent a text to Mrs Gracie to explain her absence. The following day she texted Mrs Gracie again, stating she was unwell due to stress and her GP had signed her off from work for two weeks.

Three days later the firm sacked her from her £18,500 job, citing her ongoing absences and the fact she had sent text messages rather than calling on the phone. The dismissal letter also said she was not acting in good faith by reporting herself as sick when it was her child who was unwell. It said leaving work to collect her child without authorisation was gross misconduct. Mrs Henderson wrote to her employers to explain why she thought the dismissal was unfair but was not given the right to appeal.

The ET

The ET said that Mrs Henderson’s  absence from work to collect her child came under Section 57A ERA 1996. AccountsNet knew why she had to leave work and how long she would be gone for since Mrs Henderson told her 10 colleagues of this and sent a text message to Mrs Gracie. This was done as soon as reasonably practicable, and one day of leave was a reasonable period of time. The principal reason for her dismissal was taking time off work to care for dependants, which is prohibited under section 99 of the Employment Rights Act 1999. Mrs Henderson's claim for automatic unfair dismissal was successful and AccountsNet had to pay her £13,080.55 for loss of earnings and loss of statutory rights.