ARGYLL AND BUTE COUNCIL: Sacked social worker awarded £27,000 over unfair dismissal

Payment: Melani Erlank awarded £27,000 over unfair dismissal.
Social worker Melani Erlank awarded £27,000 over unfair dismissal.

By Democrat reporter

A sacked social worker at the centre of a bullying row has been awarded nearly £27,000 by an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal.

Melani Erlank was sacked by Argyll and Bute Council in September 2019 following a long-running dispute in which she claimed to have been bullied by her manager.

The tribunal found that the local authority allowed the issue to “fester” for years, with senior managers having ‘no will’ to help Ms Erlank.

Bosses were also criticised for disregarding the advice of occupational health experts and the views of the council’s elected members in the way they dealt with the issue.

The judgment comes after a survey published last year revealed four out of five NHS staff within the council’s Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) with NHS Highland – in which Ms Erlank worked – had experienced or witnessed bullying and harassment.

Ms Erlank said the judgment signalled the end of ‘four very painful years; during which she felt suicidal at times.

She said: “I feel very relieved and grateful that my claim was upheld. The judgment means I feel vindicated and heard.

“My concerns were legitimate and I wasn’t losing my mind. I felt betrayed by management and HR.

“Their lack of intervention caused the situation to escalate. They could and should have taken action when they became aware of the concerns.

“At times I felt suicidal and unable to continue.

“If I did not have the support of my family and my union, I don’t know what would have happened.”

The tribunal heard the social worker began working with the council in February 2005, with Ms Cameron becoming her line manager in 2013.

The following year, Ms Erlank was signed off due to work-related stress.

She later suffered another period of absence for the same reason and raised concerns with local area manager Linda Skrastin that she was being bullied by Julie Cameron.

At this point, mediation was proposed but Ms Cameron refused to take part.

It later came to light that she had written a letter claiming Ms Erlank was incompetent and that she considered mediation “undermined her position as a manager”.

Employment judge Sally Cowen criticised the council for not taking action over the response, saying “a reasonable employer would have considered disciplinary action towards the manager”.

The tribunal heard that Ms Erlank suffered several periods of stress-related absence, and was seconded to another post for a short period of time.

But things came to a head in August 2019 at a case review meeting which resulted in Ms Erlank being dismissed due to “a breakdown in working relationships”.

Judge Cowen awarded her a total of £26,573.51 for unfair dismissal.

This included a 20 per cent reduction due to contributory conduct by Ms Erlank as she refused to take part in a “facilitated discussion process”.

The judge stated: “The tribunal considers that the actions of the respondent were what led to the dismissal.

“The matter could have been handled differently from the outset and the respondent’s acquiescence to Ms Cameron’s position of not wishing to engage, meant no progress was made for almost two years.

“When resolution was attempted, the mental health of the claimant was ignored and there was no will by the management involved to find ways to keep the claimant in employment.

“The dismissal was therefore unfair.”

A spokesman for Argyll and Bute Council said: “We are committed to doing all possible to create a positive working environment for our employees.

“A lot of change has happened already since the time of this complaint.

“We will continue to progress, with the HSCP, development of a constructive culture that supports all our employees in all the many different roles required to deliver effective services.”

Top picture: Oban, capital of Argyll and Bute

Leave a Reply