From Grievance to Tribunal is, as the subtitle suggests the story of one employee’s fight against her employer – and in due course – former employer. It is a self-published account of Knights journey from experiencing stress and discrimination at work to settling her case in the days before a 15 day hearing was scheduled to start.
For a long time Knight (I suspect the author’s name is a pseudonym) worked long hours to keep on top of unrealistic workloads, but a supportive boss and colleague who was similarly working long hours made it just about bearable. But when Simon, the supportive manager, departed to be replaced by Bruce things began to deteriorate.
Bruce, at least according to Knight’s characterisation, is one of the more difficult types of manager to deal with. In the late 1990s Harry Enfield introduced the character of Tim Nice but Dim. While there are certainly a few plain stupid managers who have the role purely on the basis of background and connections the characteristic I am referring to may be termed Nice but Timid. A manager who will present themselves as a friend or concerned manager but will never actually do anything to address issues that are raised with him or her. Bruce, at least in the early stages appears to be a near perfect embodiment of this type.
Bruce is very friendly but when a decision needs to be taken appears to be absent and does not respond to requests for a decision. Knight raises concerns about health and affect of workload and Bruce nods understandably but does not do anything. Knight complains about conduct of an employee, Bruce says he ‘will have a word’. That same employee acts inappropriately to Knight and colleagues, Bruce again says he will have a word. That colleague engages in sexual harassment and again Bruce will just have a word but never respond to the complaints of staff. Bruce know and employee is unhappy and stressed so he just stays away from the office. Constant inaction causes Knight to have a nervous breakdown and is absent from work for a lengthy period, Bruce does nothing.
In my experience the Nice but Timid manager is one of the more difficult manager type to challenge. They certainly need to be challenged because a failure to act lets workplace difficulties spiral out of control as it did here – an early decisive from Bruce and Knight may still be in a job and the employer saved from expensive litigation.
As a consequence of this aversion to taking a decision Knight was off sick with stress and work related depression and a grievance. As anyone who has an experience of workplace grievances will know these proceedings are often kafkaesque proportions where common sense is sacrificed for a ‘defend the company at any cost mentality’. Eventually Knight was dismissed and on her own volition brought a string of employment tribunal claims on disability discrimination, unfair dismissal, victimisation and whistleblowing grounds.
The rest of the story describes her experience navigating the employment tribunal process. Employment tribunal proceedings are intended to be informal and able to presented by anyone rather than just legal representatives. The reality is very different however with representatives for employer’s (and, unlike claimants, employers nearly always have legal representatives) bullying claimants into submission or using every trick to ensure any financial reserves are used up as soon as possible, for example by pushing for lengthy hearings.
It is a depressing read and is a helpful insight for those contemplating the prospect of pursuing an employment tribunal. Certainly worth reading as a antidote to those who go in with a false sense of hope after reading a few Tribunal or Gov.UK pages on how “accessible” and “informal” proceedings are. I will however make a few brief comments.
First, to her credit Knight is clear that should seek independent advice on their cases from advisers and not rely on the book. This is sound advice, not least as on more than one occasion the summary of the law is incorrect even on some aspects of her own case. I do not want to sound pedantic so will not elaborate further other than to say if you are inspired to take a case from reading this book then get advice first, especially is claiming discriminatory dismissals. Likewise, on the actual advice on submitting grievances and the ‘all guns blazing’ quote all the legislation and caselaw approach adopted I am not convinced is actually helpful as more often than not it will entrench positions rather than open up avenues of resolution.
Second, Knight relays her journey through three separate advisers who are each either a charlatan, jobsworth or consummate professional and more generally the real access to justice deficiencies in the current employment tribunal process. In this regard one of the absences is the absence of any mention of trade unions and certainly no positive mention- presumably because Knight was not a member of a union. The one reference that was made is in respect of a fellow claimant, Melanie where we are told that after encountering difficulties “Melanie joined a union” and received some help. I assume this help was workplace related only since it is apparent Melanie only joined after issues occurred.
I am a union rep so it will not be a surprise that I say this is an omission. A rep’s knowledge of company processes can often put a stop to the nonsense perpretrated by Bruce et al. Had she come to me as a rep I suspect a tribunal may still have been necessary but it would certainly have been much cheaper for Knight and may well have been able to be resolved with her retaining her job. I mention this as one of the most important lessons to learn is that an employee wanting to protect themselves at work should join a union before they have problems. Indecision on that point, like the indecisions of Bruce, can come to cost an employee dearly.
Finally, the book could benefit from a close proof-reading there are a few too many typographical mistakes.
Overall though this is a compelling memoir of the experience of workplace discrimination and the effect it has on one’s live and the difficulties associated with challenging that. The author showed real courage in fighting the case, much of it on her own, so the outcome whereby Knight secured a sizeable settlement is much deserved and shows with perseverance and employer will not always get its way.