Lecturer treated in shambolic way

Tribunal says management were unreasonable and probation periods too long, writes Melanie Newman

September 3, 2009

A new lecturer was put in an "impossible situation" by the University of Manchester leading to his constructive dismissal, an employment tribunal has found.

The tribunal panel was unanimous in its decision that engineering lecturer Andrew Cross had been subjected to "unreasonable and insensitive treatment" by his bosses during his three-year probationary period.

At the end of the period, in November 2007, a committee was convened to decide if the lecturer should be offered permanent employment.

On the advice of Stephen Williamson, who was then head of the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, the committee said Dr Cross' probation should be extended for another 12 months. After attempting to obtain a reason for the decision, Dr Cross resigned and accepted a post in industry.

He said in his resignation letter that three years was "a more than sufficient period for an employer to make up its mind about the abilities of an employee".

Soon afterwards he launched a legal claim for constructive dismissal.

The university argued that the academic's trust and confidence could not have been undermined because he was still seeking reinstatement at the time he brought the action. The tribunal rejected this argument, pointing out that it was the university's failure to offer a permanent job that had prompted the lecturer to treat its "unacceptable behaviour" as a breach of contract.

In a judgment handed down in March, the tribunal said Professor Williamson was "unable to offer a plausible explanation" for his recommendation to the committee that Dr Cross should not be given a permanent job, given that he had raised no adverse comments in Dr Cross' two appraisals. The appraisal forms showed that Dr Cross had achieved all of his objectives. Highlighting a number of other shortcomings by the university, the tribunal said it had failed to clarify Dr Cross' employment situation in the three months after the committee's decision in late 2007, when he had been offered another job and was considering whether to accept it.

"All the members of the tribunal regard the cumulative effect of these shortcomings as nothing less than a shambolic exercise of the respondent's obligations ... the university had, by its actions or omissions, put Dr Cross in an impossible situation by December 2007," the judgment said.

The university said it had reviewed and tightened protocols relating to the employment of academic staff and procedures were now more transparent.

Dr Cross, who now works at Aston University, declined to comment.

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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