Meet the final year Law student who helped win a whistleblowing case against a Legal 500 Lawyer

Categories: Salford Business School

22-year-old final year LLB Law student at University of Salford Business School, Elle Holland, supported her mum who was unfairly dismissed during the pandemic.

Elle and Gillian Holland

Up until April 2020 carer, Gillian Holland, was happily working for Zion Care (St Albans) Ltd, at one of its care homes based in Knott End, Poulton-le-Fylde. However, after witnessing instances of neglect and raising them, Gillian was soon dismissed.

Gillian reported the issues to the care home’s Managers, as well as the Area Manager, to determine whether there was a solution they could come to, to ensure all residents are safeguarded and protected from the neglect she had witnessed. In response, Gillian was suspended for 17 days and was informed allegations had been made against her. Within this time frame the allegations fell through, but she was dismissed on the grounds of gross misconduct due to personal Facebook messages her former employer had actively gone looking for during this window. This was five months prior to her daughter, Elle, starting her Law degree and the Judge later determined there was no wrongdoing on Gillian’s part in terms of the Facebook messages.

Due to the expense of legal support, Gillian represented herself initially, leaning into the likes of ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) and Citizens Advice for support along the way. However, when it came to the hearing beginning in December 2022, Elle was in her final year at Salford Business School and had a wealth of legal knowledge under her belt to assist her mum through the hearing, which had experienced delays due to the pandemic backlog.

Following five days in court and thanks to Elle’s legal knowledge in light of a recent employment law module she had studied, Gillian won her case on the grounds that she was a whistleblower, the direct reason for her dismissal - despite being up against her former employer’s Legal 500 Lawyer from firm, Hill Dickinson.  

Gillian, whose career in care spanned almost three decades, has since suffered severe repercussions following the experience. In addition to no longer being able to go back to the career she once loved, she has also been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety, very much uprooting her life. She commented: “The last three years have been incredibly difficult, but seeing my daughter grow into an incredible legal professional even before she has finished her degree has been amazing.

“I raised numerous neglect concerns over a period of a few months and soon found myself in what I felt was the middle of a witch hunt. I was suspended due to allegations off the back of concerns I had raised and evidenced. My concerns were ignored and I felt like I was the only person fighting for the residents. My unfair dismissal case has concluded now but I still think about the residents, as this happens in homes up and down the UK and I want to encourage people to stand up.”

Prior to the hearing, as the case started to ramp up in July 2022, Elle led on collating evidence including text messages, email correspondence and photographs of explicit protected disclosures, which were submitted to the court to strengthen Gillian’s case.

Elle added: “The last three years studying for my Law degree were instrumental in supporting my mum through her case. My mum represented herself and I was there and able to support as her reasonable adjustment, due to the anxiety she now suffers with as a result of this experience.

“Over the last few months, I have been juggling my final year assignments while supporting my mum on the case, including developing her closing statement and responding to all 44 points her former employer had tried to counter us with, in an attempt to discredit our case. We responded to every point referencing the applicable legislation and our evidence to back up our case. I also did this in tandem with working on a criminal justice assignment into the early hours of the morning, before heading into the final day of the hearing.”

Due to Elle and Gillian’s hard work and commitment to getting the justice Gillian deserved, she won her case on the grounds of automatic unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal and breach of contract. The Judge found that 27 out of 29 disclosures were made in the public interest and were protected. The Judge acknowledged that Gillian had a clear and genuine belief that the health and safety of the residents at the care home was at risk. This therefore protected Gillian under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, which protects employees and workers who are whistleblowers.

Dr Jonathan Lord, Senior Lecturer in Human Resources Management and Employment Law, University of Salford Business School, continued: “The Holland v Zion Care (St Albans) Ltd: 2415293/2020 case highlights the importance of legal representation during the employment tribunal process. A study we undertook in 2015 confirmed this, as both respondents and claimants stated they needed to be advised properly and to understand the process they are engaging with so that they could defend or present their case coherently. The study also highlighted how influential having legal representation had on the outcome of the case, as well as in the interactions with the panel of Judges. Both respondents and claimants benefit from professional advice and that’s quite clear from Elle advising her mum around how the tribunal operates, what to expect during the process and what documents are required as part of the tribunal bundle. 

“The case also highlights the importance of dealing with whistleblowing in an organisation, especially those supporting vulnerable adults. Workers who blow the whistle are entitled to protections through the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA), including protection from detriment or dismissal as a result, and to seek redress through the employment tribunals if these protections are infringed. The current regulations are currently being reviewed by the government but HR practitioners have to ensure that a culture of whistleblowing is proactively encouraged, not discouraged, which is what came out within the Zion Care case. A clear, transparent policy and reporting system needs to be imbedded into the organisation, so that managers are aware of the implications of whistleblowing and workers understand how they can report issues they are concerned about without being anxious about the repercussions. They also have to be confident that issues will be investigated and, if necessary, dealt with in an appropriate manner by an appointed person who deals with whistleblowing for the organisation.”

Elle concluded: “While we did win against the Legal 500 Lawyer representing my mum’s former employer, I was in awe of him and learnt a lot from his approach. This experience, combined with the academic and practical side of the law I have learnt so much about while studying for my degree, enabled me to apply this to my first ever case and have ultimately set me up for a successful career as I prepare to graduate this summer.”

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