Jayne Follows had been allowed by Nationwide bosses to only come into the office two to three times a week so she could care for her elderly disabled mother, an employment tribunal heard.
But the building society decided it wanted to eliminate ‘homeworking’ contracts because it didn’t believe junior staff were being supervised properly as their managers weren’t physically present.
When Ms Follows refused to give up her arrangement she was made redundant from her £75,000 a year job. She sued for discrimination and unfair dismissal claiming that she had been targeted for working from home.
Now – following a five year legal battle – she has been awarded £345,708 in compensation after the tribunal concluded that Nationwide’s belief that homeworking needed to be eliminated was based on ‘subjective impressions’.
The hearing in central London was told that Ms Follows joined Nationwide in 2011 and at the time of her losing her job in 2018 was employed as a Senior Lending Manager (SLM).
Throughout her career at the building society she received high ratings and appraisals and was regarded by bosses as a ‘top performer’, the tribunal was told.
Ms Follows was on a ‘home working contract’ which only required her to attend the office for meetings to allow her to care for her elderly and disabled mother who lived with her.
In practice, the hearing was told she went in two to three times a week. The tribunal heard that in October 2017 Nationwide decided to reduce the number of SLMs from 12 to eight and as part of this process, the decision was made to eliminate home working contracts.
Commercial Director Tony Alexander told the hearing that it was ‘essential’ that managers in the business be ‘accessible and visible’ and that junior staff had raised concerns about a lack of physical supervision.
“We felt strongly we needed a greater presence in the office,” he said. “It’s so much better if they are sitting next to each other,” adding that ‘informal day to day supervision’ was ‘lacking’.
As a result, Nationwide decided SLMs had to be office based the majority of the time, the hearing was told. Ms Follows was told on 16 October 2017 that her role was at risk of redundancy and she was invited to an initial consultation meeting.
She was informed that ‘the proposal is to place the roles that are currently home-based at risk’. The tribunal heard her boss told her: ‘I would expect all the team to be in the office every day … unless there is a specific business need or benefit to … working from home on a particular day – I certainly would expect it to be no more than a single day in any week’.
In November Ms Follows sent a formal complaint to Mr Alexander stating that Nationwide was ‘attempting to change my terms and conditions by asking me to work in an unsuitable location’.
Asked to make a counter-proposal, she replied: “My counter-proposal is to continue on my existing home working arrangement and this is never going to be supported based on unsupported and non-existent ‘business needs’.
“By setting out the business needs ‘to have more SLMs available on site more regularly’ and my (boss) confirming his negative stance on flexible working … you have removed all my options.”
The tribunal heard that by the time she sent this message although Nationwide were only seeking to remove four SLM roles, six had already volunteered to leave.
Nevertheless, the building society pressed on with its move to eliminate home working. In January 2018 Ms Follows was told she was being made redundant with immediate effect.
She sued Nationwide for unfair dismissal, disability and sex discrimination arguing that the decision to eliminate homeworkers had been made ‘on a back of a fag packet’.
Upholding the majority of her claims, the tribunal – chaired by Employment Judge Mark Emery – said: “(Nationwide) was unable to show that its rationale for deleting homeworking posts had any basis in evidence.
“We concluded that it was based on a view amongst senior management that homeworking posts should be deleted, it would be ‘better’ to do so, rather than based on any analysis of the business need for on-site SLMs or any consideration of an alternative approach.
“There was no suggestion by (Nationwide) that it considered the balance between the clearly discriminatory effect of the requirement on (Ms Follows) and the commercial department’s business needs.
“We accepted that (Nationwide) made the decision to delete homeworking SLM roles on the basis of some dissatisfaction expressed by some junior staff, and a management view that it would be ‘better’ to make this change.
“(Ms Follows’) evidence and work record at the very least suggested that any issue with supervision did not lie with staff on homeworking contracts.
“In other words, (Nationwide’s) view was not based on actual evidence or rational judgment and was instead based on subjective impressions.”