Belfast Telegraph

Whistleblower felt forced to resign from post, he tells job tribunal

John Hurson outside the tribunal in Belfast
John Hurson outside the tribunal in Belfast
Brett Campbell

By Brett Campbell

A former employee of a Republic-based food transport company who said he was assaulted by a colleague has accused the firm of unfair dismissal which is "interlinked" with his whistleblowing activity.

Yesterday John Hurson (49) told an employment tribunal that a member of staff from Agro Merchants Group Ltd, which has a branch in Lurgan, attacked him.

He is claiming constructive dismissal and alleging to have suffered detrimental loss by reason of a public interest disclosure.

Representing himself, he told the tribunal that he suffered a detrimental loss as a result of the fall-out which led to him feeling he was "forced" to resign on August 4, 2018.

"I suffered a severe detriment as the result of making a disclosure," Mr Hurson told a judge and two panel members.

When asked how by Mr McQueen, the barrister representing the respondent, Mr Hurson replied: "I was assaulted."

He then claimed that the then HR manager Laura Casey "lied to me" in an email relating to an internal investigation of the December 2, 2017 matter.

"I had serious stress and anxiety throughout this process," he said.

"I subsequently found out that I was called a liar during that process as well."

Disciplinary proceedings ended with Dave Malcolm being given a final written warning.

However, the claimant alleges that an email from Ms Casey sent on February 1, 2018, was at odds with a prior conversation the pair had over the phone.

"It said statements were gathered and appropriate action was taken against Mr Malcolm, but it was not anger management," Mr Hurson said.

He said the email did not correspond to what he was told during a 1 minute 23 second phone conversation which he claimed would not have been enough time to discuss the issues outlined in the email.

"She did not mention statements, absolutely not," Mr Hurson said.

"She did not say that Dave was willing to sit down and clear the air, absolutely not."

The claimant told the tribunal he now believes he was also lied to over protected disclosures he made through a series of text message exchanges, emails and letters.

At one point he submitted a 22-page "items for consideration" bundle to the then transport operations manager John Bothwell.

"He replied and acknowledged the concerns I had laid out," Mr Hurson said.

However Mr McQueen, for the respondent, outlined statutory requirements which require claimants to clearly outline allegations in their witness statement, and he repeatedly quizzed Mr Hurson as to why he had not done so.

He eventually forced the claimant to concede that he hadn't done so despite having received clear instructions.

The barrister also questioned why the claimant believed he had suffered injury to feelings or financial loss. Mr Hurson said he believes he would suffer "reputational damage" which could affect him for two years if he was to be known as a whistleblower.

"There would be a serious black mark against me within the transport industry," he said.

When asked why he believed that, the claimant said it was based on "my own experience" within the sector.

"I'm of the belief that the stigma of being a whistleblower would last a long time," he said.

Mr Hurson was asked to confirm key dates of when he began his new part-time employment with Maguire International in order to calculate the loss of earnings he alleges to have incurred.

The claimant was also forced to admit that he has never asked his former employer for a reference after claiming that the "lack of a reference" following five years at the firm will undoubtedly "hinder" his chances of finding a new job.

"I had it in my head I couldn't get a reference," he said.

"I assumed I wouldn't get one based on everything I went through."

Mr McQueen said if the claimant genuinely believed what he was telling the tribunal then he would have included it in his witness statement.

"You are simply making this up as you go along," he added.

But Judge Green intervened. "It is unfair to say he is making it up," he said.

"Whether there is a basis remains to be seen."

The case, which involves 500 pages of witness statements, will resume today.

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