Rachel Burns worked for 21 years at Park Hall, a residential care home for elderly people and vulnerable adults in Reigate, southern England. Soon after she uploaded an uplifting and positive image from an event at work, she lost her job. Many people, including her family, friends, and coworkers, are arguing that the dismissal was unfair.
Rachel started her occupation at Park Hall as a care assistant and slowly worked her way up to being the manager. For the past eight years until December of 2015, she was the manager of Park Hall.
One of her duties as a manager included organizing events for the adults.
One of those events was a regular music night that occurs every Friday.
Rachel said: ‘we’d put flowers on the tables [and] the residents would all get dressed up and we’d have a different supper every week.’
It was on these Friday nights where Rachel could show off her talents as a keen amateur singer. But it was on one of these Friday nights that Rachel decided to share a picture on her social media.
‘I was quite elated at how the night had gone. I posted the picture thinking that it would just be seen by a few people, mainly staff, on Facebook.’
It appeared that the picture she posted on her Facebook also included a resident of Park Hall. It was a man with Down’s syndrome who just so happened to jump into the shot beside her.
Rachel also posted a video of the music night and she was also Facebook friends with one of the relatives of one of the residents.
Apparently, these were all breaches of the Surrey County Council policy and just two days later she was suspended from her job.
‘I know I shouldn’t have put that picture up there, but should I really have had my career of 21 years taken away for one mistake? I wanted justice because I didn’t believe what they had done to me was fair.’
She was faced with two options; either accept a demotion with a significant pay cut or face dismissal. She was given two business days to make her decision and the council refused to give her an extension.
When she said she needed more time after the two-day deadline, the council sent her a letter saying she was ‘dismissed.’
Claire Pooley is the sister of the resident that was photographed in Rachel’s picture. She believes that Rachel should not have been fired for posting a picture of her brother.
‘None of us had a problem with it – gross misconduct or not. After 21 years is it appropriate to sack the manageress who’s created a culture and environment at this special home in the way that they have? The answer is no, it’s not.’
So in the fall of 2016, Rachel decided to go to the employment tribunal to sue the Surrey County Council for unfair dismissal.
Near the end of December, the council offered to settle out of court with an offer of seven thousand pounds. (Her annual salary for her position as a manager was 45,000 pounds.) This is what she had to say about that offer: ‘it was a joke, an absolute joke. And it’s not even about money now, it’s about showing them for what they are.’
More than 20 months after Rachel was suspended from her job, the court agreed with her and upheld her claim of unfair dismissal.
The judge said that the Surrey County Council’s decision to demote Rachel was reasonable but the timescale given to her to make a decision (two working days) was simply not long enough.
But Rachel will have to return to the employment tribunal to find out the exact amount that she will be compensated. So far, Rachel and her husband have accumulated more than 50,000 pounds in debt and have also had 14 months of rent in arrears.