By Cara Sulieman
The head of HR for the public body, Fiona Reith, said that they found themselves “stuck between a rock and a hard place” when dealing with Richard Saville-Smith.
The 48-year-old had been off work due to a bi-polar episode brought on by work related stress, and Ms Reith said that she was trying to deal with both that and historic disciplinary issues at the same time.
The employment tribunal in Edinburgh heard that Mr Saville-Smith had failed to turn up to work in August 2008 because he was suffering a bi-polar episode brought on by stress at work.
But there had also been previous issues with the PR guru’s performance, and Ms Reith decided to deal with both of the problems at the same time.
“They just wanted him gone”
She went on to say that Paul Bush, Chief Operating Officer for EventScotland, and Marie Christie, the project director for Homecoming, had told her they wanted Mr Saville-Smith “gone”, but that she had insisted VisitScotland had a duty to investigate what was causing his stress.
Speaking at the tribunal, Ms Reith said: “It was only on the August 18 that Marie came back to me and said that Richard hadn’t appeared for work and other the issues hadn’t improved.
“At that point because he had less than a year’s service they just wanted him gone. I said we can’t do that – it wasn’t appropriate and we needed to investigate and see what was causing the stress.
“We were caught between a rock and a hard place. We had to go through the ‘back to work’ procedure but also had to deal with performance issues. We thought ‘do we mention performance’ and decided that we can’t ignore one and do the other so we decided to combine both.”
When asked by Gillian Powell on the tribunal panel what options VisitScotland had considered for Mr Saville-Smith on his potential return to work, Ms Reith admitted they hadn’t considered many options.
“We didn’t feel it was necessary”
She said: “We thought about letting him sit the corner for the next 12 months on full pay but that wouldn’t work for Richard or for the company.
“We also considered giving him specific parts of the PR job and bringing in other people to do the other parts but that wouldn’t work for us either. These are the only two options we considered.”
And when Ms Powell asked why the disciplinary procedure hadn’t been followed, Ms Reith said it was normal for the public body to do this.
She said: “We didn’t feel it was necessary. He had less than a year’s service and only worked for 10 weeks – we didn’t feel it was working out and under these rules we can dismiss someone.
“If someone has less than a year’s service we can contravene the policy.”
When pressed on the point, the HR manager said: “If they’ve worked for less than 12 months then they don’t have full employee status.”
Ms Powell asked: “So because they haven’t got the right to go to an employment tribunal you can just ignore the policy?”
Ms Reith replied: “Yes.”
Mr Saville-Smith, who was employed to mastermind the Homecoming Scotland campaign, was sacked for incompetence in November 2008.
He claims a “bullying” style of management, an increased work load, and a lack of management support led him to suffer an episode of manic depression during which he spent four weeks in a secure unit.
The tribunal reconvened yesterday (Weds), three months after the first four days of evidence were heard in September.
The hearing, which is scheduled to last five days, continues today (Thurs).
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