A long-standing employee who resigned from an estate agent after her job was changed without consultation is to go for compensation after winning her case for constructive dismissal.
Jenny Barry had been a book-keeper with Howard Cundey LLP since 1993.
In 2016, her book-keeping duties were outsourced by the agent, which had ten branches in Sussex, Surrey and Kent, to a local firm of accountants, which would change the system of book-keeping using different software – from Sage to Quick Books.
The first Mrs Barry knew of this was in late November 2016 when she was told of the arrangements that had been made.
She complained, saying that her position was redundant as her role had ceased to exist.
However, after an internal grievance meeting, she was told in a letter by partner Daniel Berrisford: “We do not consider that your role is redundant but your duties have changed.”
Mrs Barry appealed against this in early January 2017, listing 11 job functions she had previously undertaken, saying she was now doing only three of them.
She said she had become “little more than a paper pusher of invoices”.
A second complaint by Mrs Barry was heard by an external HR consultant, who concluded that the claimant was not redundant as there was a requirement for her skills in the business.
The consultant referred to a “suitable role emerging” – something which the employment tribunal said was an implicit acceptance that Mrs Barry’s role had changed.
In March 2017, Mrs Barry resigned by letter, saying: “You have changed my role from that of a book-keeper to some kind of notional and impractical support/audit role which makes my current position untenable, and I shall seek redress via tribunal.”
Mr Berrisford replied suggesting she could reconsider her resignation; he said that she would have the opportunity to be trained on the new software system.
However, Mrs Barry left in April 2017.
The employment tribunal noted that Mrs Barry had worked part-time, but then full-time to cover the departures of other colleagues.
It concluded that Mrs Barry had in fact been redundant from mid-December 2016 onwards.
The Judge said that Howard Cundey LLP should have upheld her grievance and recognised that, with the “significant change” in her role, she was redundant.
The tribunal ruled that she had been unfairly dismissed; that the dismissal was in breach of contract and that Mrs Barry was entitled to damages; and that she was entitled to redundancy payment.
The tribunal was held last April (2018), a year after Mrs Barry left, and Judge Baron’s ruling was sent to the parties last August 28.
Mrs Barry told EYE that she is now seeking a remedies hearing.
She said that by the time the employment tribunal had notified her of its ruling, Howard Cundey LLP had gone into liquidation, with the process of winding up starting on August 21 last year.
Mrs Barry had originally sought £84,000, including a year’s loss of salary and pension contributions.
She said: “I had always hoped to work until I was 70. I am now 68.
“I was extremely upset and demoralised by what had happened, and at my age, I do not think it feasible that a new employer would want to take me on. It therefore forced retirement on me.”
She said that there had “never been any complaint about my work – in fact quite the opposite”.
Mrs Barry has now received the maximum possible redundancy money from the government scheme – £15,000, which includes two months’ notice pay.
She said she will now seek about £50,000 at a remedies hearing.
While Howard Cundey LLP is now in liquidation, a new company, Howard Cundey Live, now operates.
Yesterday evening, the firm said of the case: “Jennifer Barry vs Howard Cundey LLP centred around whether the employer could amend duties of a part-time booker keeper in a software change from Sage to Quick Books, introducing automated processes with data on the cloud rather than paper systems and locally stored data.
“The Judge’s decision was communicated to the LLP (in administration) so the firm was not represented with aspects of the award that were referred to ACAS for conclusion.”
This is the third employment tribunal case involving Howard Cundey LLP that EYE has reported on since November. In the two previous cases, the tribunals ordered payments to former employees of £28,000 and over £21,000, after the firm reduced staff wages by 30% without consultation.
Last July, EYE reported that Howard Cundey LLP had made nine staff redundant.