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Care whistleblower wins dismissal case following “witch hunt”

Gillian Holland, a former carer at Zion Care was found to be wrongfully dismissed in 2020 after raising concerns about neglect.

After witnessing the neglect of residents, Holland reported the issues to the care home’s managers, as well as the area manager. 

She was then 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 found during this window.  

The judge later determined there was no wrongdoing on Holland’s part in terms of the Facebook messages. 

After taking her former employer to the tribunal, Holland won her case on the grounds that she was a whistleblower and had made protected disclosures.

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Holland, whose career in care spanned almost three decades, has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety.

Speaking exclusively to HR magazine, she said: “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. 

“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.” 

She was aided in the case by her daughter, Elle Holland, who was a law student at the University of Salford Business School at the time. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “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.”  

In a statement to HR magazine, a spokesperson for St Albans Nursing Home, where Holland worked, said:

“The wellbeing of our residents is our number one priority, and we will always act to uphold our values of dignity and respect.

"We are therefore disappointed with the outcome of the tribunal, as we believed we acted in the best interests of those who live with us – in line with our commitment to protecting their privacy and rights to live freely and safely in the place they call home.

"We can confirm that all concerns were investigated and escalated to external safeguarding and regulatory bodies as they came to our attention.

"However, we acknowledge that in 2019 there were several instances in which our local management team fell short of our stringent whistleblowing and escalation procedures, and apologise for this.

"In the three years since these events occurred, and under new local management, we have undergone extensive work to strengthen our whistleblowing and feedback processes – including establishing an anonymous reporting line, and reminding our teams how to report any concerns directly to external safeguarding bodies themselves.

"We greatly value transparency and honest feedback from our dedicated team members who help us to make our home the caring, safe place it is for those who live there – as evidenced by the CQC’s recent inspection report which rated us ‘Good’ in all areas.”

Jonathan Lord, senior lecturer in HR management and employment law at University of Salford Business School, said the case highlights the importance of careful handling of whistleblowing. 

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “Workers who blow the whistle are entitled to protections through the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998.  

“This includes protection from detriment or dismissal as a result, and to seek redress through the employment tribunals if these protections are infringed.” 

Lord said employers must ensure that staff are able to safely report concerns. 

“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 embedded 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.”