Sick child who cost a job;Employment law

11th June 1999 at 01:00
A teacher forced out of her job after taking time off to care for her sick daughter has won a claim for constructive dismissal. Fiona Turner taught part-time at Haynes lower school in Bedfordshire from 1992 until July 1998. During her last two years at the school, "her life was made intolerable" by the headteacher, Valerie Fitzhugh, according to the chairman of the employment tribunal that heard the case.

A series of incidents convinced Mrs Turner that Mrs Fitzhugh had turned against her. Then the head started disciplinary proceedings against the teacher for taking unauthorised absence. Mrs Turner had been absent until 10.30am on March 23, 1998, but had telephoned the school to explain she was looking after her sick daughter, whose school had issued a meningitis warning. Mrs Turner was also accused of making a short private telephone call from the school without permission and of using, but not paying for, two pages of photocopying paper.

Before the disciplinary hearing, Mrs Turner learned that she had a contractual right to three days' paid leave of absence in any one year to attend to a sick child. Distressed that the school was bringing a formal action against her in these circumstances, she resigned, claiming constructive dismissal.

Mrs Turner told the industrial tribunal that she had been bullied. "I do not know why Mrs Fitzhugh has chosen to respond to me as she has," she said, "but I have an abiding sadness whenever I think of my time at Haynes lower school. I did not behave or work any differently in 1997-1998 than I had done in previous years."

The hearing collapsed when Mrs Fitzhugh and the chair of governors, Andrew Whitehead, conceded the case. The tribunal awarded Mrs Turner pound;2,888.50 damages for unfair dismissal.

A statement from Bedfordshire County Council said: "The decision to concede the case was taken on legal advice to the effect that the governing body could not expect to succeed in resisting the claim for unfair dismissal. That advice related to the circumstances in which disciplinary proceedings had been commenced against Mrs Turner. It was not founded on any acceptance that the headteacher had made Mrs Turner's life intolerable."

Jenni Watson, secretary of Redress, the bullied teachers' support network, said: "This case is important because of the tribunal's clarity in recognising the effects on a teacher of the sort of thing that happened to Fiona."

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