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Former Cheshire East Council employee Sue Wallace fought back tears as she asked why she would put herself through “18 months of hell” just to lie at her employment tribunal, writes Stephen Topping.

The former HR officer, of Connah’s Quay, has taken Cheshire East Council to an employment tribunal after her employment came to an end on December 31, 2016 – just weeks after trying to raise concerns through the whistle-blowing procedure.

At a hearing in the Manchester Employment Tribunal, Ms Wallace said she was ‘treated differently’ to other members of the council’s HR team on fixed-term contracts because she had tried to blow the whistle on workers that took on ‘sleep-in shifts’ being paid less than the minimum wage.

The claimant – who is representing herself at the hearing – also raised concerns about employees on fixed-term contracts not being involved a redundancy consultation during a HR restructure in November 2016, the circumstances around her own dismissal and a culture of bullying.

Jeremy Lewis, the barrister representing CEC, suggested Ms Wallace was not interested in being kept on at the council and instead was looking to put pressure on Sara Barker, head of strategic HR.

Ms Wallace said: “Why on earth, if I was not seeking to be reinstated, would I push the grievances?

“What was the point of putting myself through all of that if there was no chance of me being reinstated?

“Who in their right mind would put themselves through that? Nobody.

“I have not lied about this at all.

“It is the officers of the council who lied about that and I was not strong enough in my questioning. I see that now.”

CEC officers including Peter Bates, the suspended chief operating officer, have told the tribunal that Ms Wallace had a fixed-term contract ending on December 31.

Mr Bates told the tribunal she had rejected both the offer of a permanent contract and a temporary extension.

But Ms Wallace insists she had reluctantly agreed to accept the permanent offer in December.

Mr Lewis said: “Your contract was coming to an end.

“You were off sick and you needed to be given a week’s notice. You had to be told with a matter of imminence.

“You may have been upset but it is because you thought you had the respondent under a barrel having rejected both the options.”

Mr Lewis told the tribunal that Ms Wallace had changed her evidence after she discovered a document which suggested her contract status was due to be changed to permanent in the council’s Oracle HR system.

He also challenged Ms Wallace’s case that she tried to raise “sleep-in shifts” through the whistle-blowing process – arguing her grievances were instead targeted at Mrs Barker.

“It was not about Sara Barker,” Ms Wallace told the tribunal.

“It could have been any manager. It was about the failure to follow policies and procedures in HR.

“As HR we are custodians of policies, procedures and practices.

“If we can’t follow those ourselves – shame on us.”

Ms Wallace added that the issue concerning the minimum wage had become her ‘crusade’, and she saw blowing the whistle as a ‘platform’ for highlighting it.

Before leaving the council, Ms Wallace received a letter saying she had been placed on gardening leave.

Mr Lewis told the tribunal that this should not have had a stigma attached to it.

“I would like to believe that but then I get told there was merriment at my dismissal,” Ms Wallace responded.

She added that she was told there had been “merriment” by Conservative Cllr David Marren, the former vice chairman of Cheshire East Council’s audit and governance committee, and a union representative.

But Mr Lewis dismissed it as “pure hearsay”.

“There was no merriment. It was hearsay and it is not appropriate to raise it now.”

The judicial bench hearing Ms Wallace’s case was presented with a copy of the Local Government Association’s review into culture at CEC – in which 200 employees said they had been bullied at work.

Ms Wallace told the tribunal that other members of the HR team had wanted to raise similar concerns to her own, but they “were afraid to raise their heads above the parapet”.

The hearing was adjourned until Friday.

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