An employment tribunal judgment issued last week could have far-reaching implications for the employment rights of employees seconded to other organisations.
In a pre-hearing inquiry, the tribunal found that Christine Fitton, who in 2002 was seconded from the community education department of Edinburgh City Council to be manager of Edinburgh's Lifelong Learning Partnership, was no longer an employee of the local authority when she lodged a claim of three counts of unfair dismissal (one of them under "whistle-blowing"
legislation) and a claim of sex discrimination.
Dr Fitton said she was appealing against the finding and would be prepared to take the case to the European Court. She said that if the judgment was correct, it meant that no secondee had job security. "The implications are horrendous. It means that your employer can act badly and you have no recourse against them."
The substance of her claim has not been investigated by the tribunal because it found that in 2005, when she resigned from her job, she was an employee of ELLP, which is chaired by a council representative and made up of representatives of the council, further education colleges, universities, and a number of public, private sector and voluntary bodies.
In 2003, after her 12-month secondment, Dr Fitton was offered a permanent post as manager of ELLP and her former post in the community education department was filled by someone else. However, the council agreed that, in the event of her secondment coming to an end before her retirement date, it would guarantee to employ Dr Fitton in a post comparable to her previous one.
Nevertheless, the tribunal found that her employer was ELLP and that there was an implied contract of employment between them.
This is the second whistle-blowing case involving the council and ELLP. The other, extensively reported in The TESS, concerned allegations by a community education employee of financial malpractice in an ICT project connected with Edinburgh's Lifelong Learning Partnership.