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A boss has been forced to pay one of his former employees £3,000 in compensation after firing her for “calling in sick” on Mondays.
A judge found that Celine Thorley, from Cardiff, really was ill and her boss had failed to follow a “fair process”.
Christian Donnelly, who owned Acute Barbers in the Cardiff University student union, had warned Ms Thorley “don’t let me down on Monday” as she finished her final shift before a weekend house party.
She then texted him on the Monday saying she could not get out of bed because her stomach was “killing” her. Mr Donnelly replied that he was sacking her after “four years of phoning in sick on Mondays because you’d had a good weekend”.
An employment judge ordered Mr Donnelly, 39, to pay Ms Thorley, 25, a total of £3,453 after ruling she was genuinely ill with a heavy period.
Mr Donnelly — who has closed the student union shop but still cuts hair at Acute Barbers in Llandaff North — told WalesOnline he stands by the decision because there was a “pattern” of Ms Thorley calling in sick on Mondays. He accepted he should have gone through the correct process including written warnings but felt the amount of compensation was a “farce”, adding: “I don’t know how I’m going to come up with that.”
Ms Thorley started working at the shop in 2018. Mr Donnelly said they got on “pretty well” and described her as a “damn decent barber” who was friendly with customers. But he told the tribunal that in her first year she had more time off than her colleagues combined and that the sick days almost always followed weekends.
Mr Donnelly claimed that she had 17 days of Monday/Tuesday absences as well as 10 days off recovering from a burn.
The tribunal heard Ms Thorley hosted a Halloween house party on the last weekend of October 2021. Mr Donnelly said his parting words to her before the weekend were: “Don’t let me down on Monday.”
But on the Monday morning Ms Thorley texted: “Hey Chris I know you’re going to be mad at me but I can’t make it to work sorry I really didn’t think I was going to be this bad I’m not well at all I was a mess yesterday and I’ve woke up this morning and was sick straight away. I really thought I was going to be okay today… my stomach is killing me and I’m all shaky… I really can’t get out of bed Chris. I’m so sorry!”
Mr Donnelly said he was “not having this” and would be letting her go. She protested but he replied: “After four years of phoning in sick on Mondays because you’d had a good weekend, I can do what I like, trust me… I’ve kept that shop open just to keep you in a wage… Don’t come in and you’re gone.” Ms Thorley warned she would take him to a tribunal, to which he responded: “You’ve had all your warnings. Crack on with all that legal s***.”
The tribunal heard that Ms Thorley’s mother-in-law took the day off work to look after her because she was in “severe pain” on the day she was fired. And Ms Thorley said the number of absences was “not as bad” as Mr Donnelly suggested. She could not say how often she needed time off for period issues but suspected it may have been “every month or every other month”.
Ms Thorley also claimed she was suffering from endometriosis, a condition which can cause crippling pelvic pain. She had never received a formal diagnosis but said she was on a waiting list to be seen by a gynaecologist. The tribunal heard there was no referral letter in her medical records.
Judge Roseanne Russell found that Ms Thorley had a “physical impairment” from menorrhagia (heavy periods). Upholding a claim of unfair dismissal, she said Mr Donnelly had not given formal warnings. “A fair process had been ignored altogether,” she added. “The failure was not inadvertent but deliberate. This was demonstrated by Christian Donnelly telling the claimant to ‘crack on with all that legal s***’.”
Mr Donnelly told WalesOnline he felt “no bitterness” towards Ms Thorley. He said the business had been struggling so much during the coronavirus pandemic that he worked as a labourer so he could keep the student union shop going. “I kept it open so she would be in a wage,” he added. “I made so many sacrifices. Because of the rent and service charge I was having to put my wages from building work towards topping up her wages. I thought it would pay dividends because she’s a decent barber and I’d get the money back, but I’ve got to take it on the chin.”
He said he had given a series of verbal warnings, adding: “I pulled her to one side so many times saying, ‘You’re making it blatantly obvious what’s going on and you need to nip it in the bud’.” But he believes he has learned a lesson that “the Is need to be dotted and the Ts crossed”.
Mr Donnelly closed down the shop in the student union “pretty much immediately” after sacking Ms Thorley and said his remaining shop has been struggling since the pandemic. He sold his car so he could pay £700 for two hours of legal advice before the tribunal, in which he represented himself because he could not afford a solicitor.
He added that he is “living off credit cards” and that the judge did not take his financial struggles into account. “Even if it was £500 I would have struggled to pay it,” he said. “I was broke then and I’m even more broke now.”
He is hoping to set up a long-term payment plan. Ms Thorley was approached for comment.
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