Mum sacked for going to collect her sick child wins £13K for unfair dismissal

By Solent News

A trainee accountant at a Scottish firm has won more than £13,000 after she was sacked for leaving work to pick up her sick child from school.

Catherine Henderson got a text in the office telling her her child - who suffered from an underlying health condition - was ill and needed collecting.

With no managers at the accountants available to ask permission, she informed colleagues she had to leave for the 'emergency situation', an employment tribunal was told.

But her bosses viewed her sudden exit as 'gross misconduct' and sent her a letter of dismissal just four days later after she had been signed off from work due to stress.

Mrs Henderson, who had only worked for the accountancy firm for five months, has now been awarded £13,080.55 after successfully arguing she had been unfairly dismissed.

The hearing in Scotland was told Mrs Henderson began working as a trainee accountant for AccountsNet Ltd - an accounting firm for small businesses based in Livingston, West Lothian - in October 2019.

The panel heard 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.

Her first absence was recorded as 'compassionate leave' whilst the other two were taken as unpaid leave.

Mrs Henderson later agreed a flexible working pattern with her line manager, under which she would work from nine until three with no lunch break so she could be home for her child when school finished.

However two months later, on Mrs Henderson's first day back in the office after a week's annual leave, another 'more formal' meeting was called to discuss her hours.

During the March 2 meeting her bosses told her that her 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.

The tribunal heard that 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 to her that Mrs Henderson said she would call her.

Mrs Henderson later sent a text to Mrs Gracie to explain her absence, but the latter had 'expected a telephone call' from her, the panel heard.

The following day she texted Mrs Gracie again, stating she was 'unwell due to stress' and that her GP had signed her off from work for two weeks.

But just 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 telephoning' managers to report her absences.

The dismissal letter also highlighted concerns Mrs Henderson was 'not acting in good faith' by reporting herself as sick when 'it was her child who was unwell', and judging her abrupt exit to collect her child without authorisation as '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.

She later sued the company for unfair dismissal.

Employment Judge Eleanor Mannion said: "The termination letter confirmed that [AccountsNet Ltd] viewed the fact that [Mrs Henderson] had left work as gross misconduct, classifying it as an absence without authority.

"Mrs Gracie confirmed that [Mrs Henderson] leaving her place of work on 2 March 2020 was the principal reason for the dismissal.

"[Mrs Henderson] stated that she was required to take time off work on an urgent basis as her child was unwell.

"This was not challenged by [AccountsNet Ltd]. Instead, they had an issue in the manner in which she left her place of work as she did not speak to a manager in advance of this.

"It was necessary for the Claimant to take time off work on 2 March 2020 to provide assistance to her child who was ill given her medical condition.

"[Mrs Henderson] informed her colleagues of this and sent a text message to Mrs Gracie. This was done as soon as reasonably practicable.

"Further, given the leave amounted to one day, it is a reasonable period of time."

Mrs Henderson's claim for automatic unfair dismissal was successful, and her former employers were ordered to pay her £13,080.55 for loss of earnings and loss of statutory rights.

Another claim of unfair dismissal citing her requests for flexible working hours was dismissed.

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