Unfair dismissal claims against Northumberland County Council

Northumberland County Council
Northumberland County Council

A former HR manager at Northumberland County Council has claimed the authority’s treatment of him ’caused very serious damage to his mental health’.

The council is being accused of unfair dismissal and age discrimination by Chris Stephenson at an employment tribunal which started on Monday.

Mr Stephenson, who worked at the authority since 1983, had been HR manager (pay, reward and projects) since 2013, but was selected for redundancy during a restructuring of the service in the autumn of 2016.

He claims that the interview process was not fair and that his attempts to find alternative roles were thwarted, alleging that Kelly Angus, the council’s executive director of human resources, was behind this.

The local authority refutes his claims and, under cross-examination, Mr Stephenson admitted he did not raise complaints about the restructuring and the process at the time.

He claimed that this was because he did not believe it was ‘an honest process’. He also said that objecting to what was happening would have been akin to ‘signing a suicide note’.

It was also put to Mr Stephenson that the chain of events he alleges was ‘simply paranoia’, which he denied. Asked if it was ‘sour grapes’ about not getting the new role, he said: “Not at all, it was sour grapes that Kelly Angus engineered my redundancy.”

The tribunal is also hearing from a second claimant, Sarah Kirk, who was made redundant from the HR department during the same restructuring process.

As well as unfair dismissal, she has made allegations about her treatment being the result of whistle-blowing over claims involving the former and current chief executives, Steve Mason and Daljit Lally, and their attempts to force other staff out of the organisation.

Again, her claims have been refuted by the council and it says investigations found no evidence of the whistle-blowing allegations, according to witness statements.

The hearing is expected to last for 10 days and the county council will be presenting its case after the two claimants.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service