Confusion over dinner lady’s tribunal

ESSEX education authority and a union are in dispute over the meaning of an employment tribunal ruling in the case of a school dinner lady sacked after telling a couple how their seven-year-old daughter had been tied to a fence and hit with a skipping rope by other children.

Union Unison claims the tribunal upheld Carol Hill’s complaint of unfair dismissal but the school and Essex County Council, the education authority, deny the union’s claims.

Mrs Hill, 61, lost her job at Great Tey Primary School in September 2009 for breach of confidentiality after revealing to the child’s parents that their seven-year-old daughter had been tied up with a skipping rope.

Speaking after the result yesterday, Mrs Hill, of Chappel Road, Great Tey, said: “I have always maintained that I haven’t done anything wrong and I’m absolutely delighted with the tribunal’s decision.

“The parents had a right to know what had happened to their child and I stand by my decision to tell them.”

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However, the school and Essex County Council have hit back at Unison, the trade union backing Mrs Hill, saying that it was wrong to suggest she had won the unfair dismissal claim and that further representation was still needed to resolve the matter.

Mrs Hill, who had worked at the school for seven years, was on duty when Chloe was tied up to a fence with a skipping rope by boys and was crying.

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Later, while working as a volunteer leader at the local Beaver Scouts, Mrs Hill met the girl’s parents and explained what had happened. The parents reported the incident to the police and withdrew their child from the school.

The school claimed that Mrs Hill broke confidentiality by talking about the incident to the girl’s parents, and then committed gross misconduct when she told the Press about her subsequent suspension.

An employment tribunal, held at Bury St Edmunds, reserved its judgement after a three-day hearing. The ruling was not read out in public but sent to parties involved.

Mrs Hill said she was pleased with the ruling. “This is the best New Year news I could have. I am delighted and very relieved. I have always had the welfare of the children in my care at heart and I still miss working at the school.

“I was never confident that I was going to win the tribunal because previously I had lost the disciplinary and the appeal and I felt that I would lose again.

“It’s such a great weight off my mind, I feel happy and alive which I haven’t felt for a long time. It’s affected me a lot having this hanging over me and not knowing what was going to happen. At times I’ve felt very down and like no one was on my side, but I know a lot of people have supported me.

“The situation has been made worse because it was so close to Christmas and it’s been very hard to enjoy it when I knew the result was coming up. I’ve always said that I’d like my job back and that’s not changed.”

A joint statement from the county council and Great Tey Primary School said: “It is completely inaccurate to suggest that Mrs Hill has won her claim for unfair dismissal.

“Furthermore there has been no judgement on the fairness, or not, of the dismissal and the tribunal makes it clear there is need for further representation from both counsels to decide this point.

“On a number of critical points the employment tribunal ruling has found against Mrs Hill including that she was not acting in good faith when speaking to the press and did so for the purpose of personal gain.

“The claimant’s predominant motive was self-interest and to a lesser extent antagonism towards Mrs Crabb.

“The tribunal also ruled that disclosures were not protected under the Employment Rights Act therefore she was not acting as a whistleblower. The council and school will now be considering all the options before making any further decisions or announcements.”

A union representative is warning that Mrs Hill might not be allowed to have her job back despite the outcome of the hearing.

Mick Mahoney, who was representing Mrs Hill on behalf of the trade union Unison, warned that she might not be reinstated.

He said that it had been an “agonising” wait, but there was still another hearing to come. He said: “I’m over the moon about the result. It’s been a long time coming and the last few weeks have been agonising for Carol.

“The result has been delayed for various reasons and that’s made it a rough, especially over Christmas, but this is the news we wanted to hear.’’

He said a remedies hearing had been scheduled for February 2 and 3 where the employment tribunal would consider whether compensation should be awarded. He added: “For Carol it’s never been about the compensation, what she wants is her job back, but unfortunately that might not happen. The law says that the school doesn’t have to let her come back to work and Carol will have to live with that.

“She’s always felt that she hasn’t done anything wrong. All she did was disclose what had happened in the playground to a parent.”

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