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BT Condemned As Performance Marking Used To Dismiss Disabled Employee

BT has been accused of a ‘box ticking exercise’ and criticised by an employment tribunal judge for making no attempt to find suitable re-employment for an employee following a spinal operation, but instead using a performance down-marking as an excuse to sack him.

Trevor Edwards was a programme manager, who had enjoyed a long and successful career. He had worked for British Telecommunications for almost 40 years, before being dismissed on grounds of performance in 2014.

Pic: Employment Tribunals logoFollowing a spinal operation in 2012, Trevor returned to work to find that a reorganisation meant that he had been placed in a different unit. He was then placed on a performance 'coaching plan' and subsequently marked down, despite being new to the role, which was contrary to BT’s procedures.

Trevor was supported through the performance process by his Prospect representative, Sue Harding. They appealed against the warnings, but the appeals were rejected and he was given notice that his employment would be terminated. 

BT said it had considered alternative roles and yet no attempt was made to place Trevor into a comparable or even lower graded role. 

He was told he could continue to look for employment up until his termination date, during which time he applied for more than 50 jobs, but he was unsuccessful because of the under-performance markings.

Prospect negotiator, Johanna Baxter, and legal officer, Jane Copley advised Trevor and a claim was presented to the employment tribunal.

The case was heard over three days in June in the Birmingham tribunal. Trevor was represented by David Renton, a barrister specialising in employment law. 

The tribunal found the dismissal was unfair. The judge held that BT had been unreasonable in not being more proactive in finding alternative employment for Trevor.

The judge found that BT had "seemingly carried out a box ticking exercise with no regard to the practical realities of what they were doing". 

Jane Copley said:

"I am pleased that the judge accepted our arguments in this case and that BT’s capricious approach to Trevor’s employment was rejected. It is appalling that such a large company would not do more to find a suitable job for a long standing manager with such a good record."

Prospect warned a year ago that while a long list of blue chip companies has abandoned the “rank and yank” performance management approach, many others are persisting with a system that is bad for staff and bad for performance. Studies have shown the approach to cause high levels of workplace stress, burnout and ill-health.

BT’s largest Trade Union, the Communications Workers Union (CWU) have been battling with BT for some years over its performance management regime, which is being used more and more as a method of dismissing people as the company continues to down-size.

At the Union’s Annual Conference in Bournemouth this year, numerous motions on the Agenda were concerned with BT’s abuse of their performance management accusing the company of managing employees out of the business and the dismissal of their members, when alternative action was available to the Company.

Merseyside and South West Lancs CWU Branch tabled motion 42 which highlighted in particular the problem facing BT employees currently having mental health issues and finding themselves on the road to dismissal.

The opening paragraph of the proposition speaks volumes and mirrors the situation that Trevor Edwards found himself in:

“With a ‘one size fits all’ approach by BT in relation with the managing of performance, many members are finding themselves in a downward spiral they cannot control and not of their doing. Conference is seeing a growing number of cases that if managed differently could have a positive outcome; instead many have resulted in the CWU member leaving the company.”

Further, motion 45 from Greater London Combined CWU Branch opened with a statement which describes fully the landscape of the inherent misuse of the company's performance management procedure:

“Conference notes with concern the continuing failure of BT to improve the performance management (PM) process to make it supportive rather than punitive for its staff; the reality is that CWU members are still harassed by the PM process in BT to the point of dismissal.”

Despite previous agreements with BT made in 2014 which enables a system especially designed to allow the CWU to quickly warn BT of the individual cases where mismanagement of the performance management process can be identified on an individual case basis; nothing has changed as far as the majority of cases the Union is dealing with are concerned. Indeed in a survey, 80% of respondents stated that the situation was even worse than previously identified.

Source: CWU / Prospect / TUC Risks

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