Young CICA solicitor was not unfairly dismissed

Employment contract: There was a potentially fair reason for dismissal

A young solicitor at the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA), who left only six months after completing her traineeship because her fixed-term contract (FTC) had expired, was not unfairly dismissed, an employment tribunal has ruled.

Employment Judge Robison said the claimant, identified only as Ms X, failed to appreciate that one of the reasons for the contract was to give her extra time to obtain alternative employment at the end of her traineeship.

The judge said that, following her departure in September 2017, Ms X lodged multiple claims but later withdrew them all apart from unfair dismissal. It was technically brought against the Ministry of Justice, of which the CICA is an executive agency.

Ms X started work as a trainee solicitor with the CICA, based in Glasgow, in March 2015. After completing her traineeship in March 2017, she was employed under a six-month contract, terminating in September 2017.

Judge Robison described Gordon Newall, former director of legal services at CICA, as “credible and reliable” in the evidence he gave, having got “the clear  impression that he was genuinely keen to assist and support the claimant in the transition from the end of her traineeship to a role as a qualified solicitor”.

In contrast, she described Ms X as “rather naïve in her assessment of her case, and that was because she considered the circumstances only from her own perspective, and failed to take an objective view of the circumstances, bearing in mind the position of the respondent.

“We found this rather surprising given her background in HR, and her references to have been involved in organisational design and restructuring.”

Judge Robison said the most common reasons relied upon by employers for termination of an FTC were redundancy, of which there was “no question” in this case, or the employer showing there was “some other substantial reason” (SOSR).

It must be shown that the fixed term contract was adopted for a genuine purpose, that fact was known to the employee and the “specific purpose for which the fixed-term contract was adopted has ceased to be applicable”.

The judge said she accepted Mr Newall’s argument that Ms X’s contract was created to help get the CICA through “a period of flux” and that period had come to an end.

She also accepted the CICA’s argument that, “as a lawyer with more than 10 years of HR experience”, had Ms X been concerned about lack of detail on the reasons for the FTC, “then she would have taken steps to have become better informed before accepting the contract”.

Judge Robison concluded: “We understood why the claimant would be aggrieved when her FTC ended and was not continued. She was busy and there was no less work to be done in the department, and indeed it may be that the workload for lawyers was increasing.”

However, the “claimant’s sense that it was unfair and the conclusion reached following application of the legal principles to the facts found are two different things”.

The judge said one of the reasons for the setting up of the contract was to give the claimant “a further opportunity to obtain alternative employment”, and “the claimant’s failure to appreciate the opportunity she was given of further time to seek a qualified post was ultimately to her detriment”.

Dismissing Ms X’s claim, Judge Robison said that, based on its findings of fact, the CICA had shown that there was a “potentially fair reason for dismissal, namely SOSR”, and “that in all the circumstances the decision to dismiss the claimant was reasonable”.

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