Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Annus Horribilis

Today I am telling my story of 2009 by publishing three documents.

  • The first is my offer to become a regular volunteer in the Library. This was addressed to Ian Dougill with a copy to Glynn Wilton.
  • The second is my appeal against unfair dismissal from the Library. This was considered by a Panel comprising Geoffrey Claydon, Peter Moore and Richard Sykes.
  • The third is my comments on the results of this appeal. This was addressed to Colin Heaton.
2009 has not been a good year. A small group of three employees and one Board member have succeeded in having me banned from the Library for life. The question now is whose turn will it be to be trashed in 2010?

DOCUMENT 1 dated February 20th

I would like to formalise my position in the Library. Over the past three years I have demonstrated my ability to turn up regularly and get on with various jobs assigned by Glynn to his satisfaction. The Library has also seen massive capital investment over the past two months which needs to be followed up by work on the ground.

I would like to volunteer approximately two days per week but in exchange for this commitment I think the position needs to regularised so that we all understand who is doing what and why. There are also housekeeping details such as a job title, formal training and most important putting my name on the who's and who's out board.

As part of this process I also formally apply to join The Collections Management Committee so as to be involved in, and therefore committed to the decision making process.

Perhaps the three of us could get together next week to take this offer forward.

I didn't get a reply and had to send a reminder. On 17th March I received this reply 'At its meeting this afternoon the Collections Management Committee considered your request to join the committee but I would to inform you that they decided that they did not wish to increase their membership at present. I regret therefore that I have to inform you that I am unable to agree to your request.'

On 24th March I was given a letter by Glynn Wilton telling me that my services were no longer required. I apologised immediately for giving offence and offered to sit down with all concerned to resolve the problem. This offer was noted but ignored.

On 27th March my appeal against this was heard by Karen Rigg. On 3rd May I met Karen and she gave me her report. I told her that although her report identified faults on both sides I was disappointed that it gave me no hope of returning to the Library. I told her that I would make a final appeal to the Board.

DOCUMENT 2 dated July 11th

Appeal against unfair dismissal from the Library
Objective – my objective is to find out why I have been dismissed from the Library. I know what happened but I also need to know why.

Fundamental Questions

1. Please explain why the Collections Management Committee didn't explain the obscure membership rules for this committee and have taken no interest in my work and simply refused to consider my application to join.

2. Please provide details of what I have done wrong with dates and times of each incident and the reasons why the Curator considers this to be gross misconduct that could not be remedied in any way other than by instant dismissal.

I am only aware of two incidents – a single blog post dated 7th February 2009 and my attempt to address the Collections Management Committee. Hardly gross misconduct.

Collections Management Committee

I worked in the Library as a regular volunteer for three years. Details of my work are set out in Attachment 1. During this time I realised that the Library was hopelessly under resourced and the back log of work was increasing week by week.

I thought a policy decision as to the scope of the collection was required otherwise the Library will continue to accumulate more and more irrelevant material. Based on my experience with maps and timetables I wrote a short report for the Curator dated 5th April 2006. (Attachment 2) I revised this report on 7th March 2007. (Attachment 3) I asked the Curator to discuss these reports with the Collections Management Committee and for them to confirm the Museum's policy. The reason I have asked for minutes of this committee is to find out if the matter was ever discussed.

I now ask this Panel to find this information for me as I think it is relevant.

More recently I have sorted through several bequests and they often contain material that I think has no place in the Library (family photograph albums and general interest picture books about canals for example) but I had no authority to remove them so they continue to fill our shelves.

The second major concern I have is that the Library catalogue is not being updated and new accessions are not being processed. The original catalogue software is obsolete and the new software has not been fully commissioned. I wanted to make this my next project as I think that I have the skills and experience to do this. Again I wanted to discuss this situation with the Collections Management Committee and hopefully be given a project with timescales and a budget to fully implement the new catalogue.

Once these two problems have been solved we can ask for volunteers and recruit paid staff to carry out the work. Getting extra resources without solving the problems and giving them clear guidelines and working methods would be a waste of time and money.

I simply don't understand why no one on was prepared to listen to me or to even consider my offers of help and I now ask the Panel to find out.

Unfair dismissal – interview with Glynn Wilton (Curator) and Andrew Watkins (Financial Controller) on 24th March 20092

I agreed to meet Glynn Wilton at 10:00 but he had an important staff meeting so I was asked to wait until 11:00. During that time I had a chat with Board Member, Richard Sykes who clearly did not know that Glynn was about to dismiss me for gross misconduct.

I was not told beforehand that this was to be a disciplinary interview and I was not reminded of my rights to be represented by a trade union official or a 'friend'. The meeting was held in Andrew Watkins' office and he took notes (Attachment 4). Andrew acted in a professional manner throughout in stark contrast to Glynn who simply ignored the Society's code of practice. Glynn handed me the letter. (Attachment 5) I was devastated and simply could not believe what was happening.

I felt at the time and still believe that Glynn was acting on Ian Dougill's instructions. Ian should have had the courage to have attended this meeting with Glynn rather than involving Andrew Watkins who is a finance officer and not an HR manager.

My next question for the Panel is why was Glynn not supported by his manager?

I now ask Andrew to confirm that I was not expecting to be given instant dismissal and that I was very upset and left the meeting on the verge of tears. I also ask Andrew to confirm that I said at the time that I had not intended to upset Library staff with a blog post but rather to draw attention to the difficulties they face. I also offered to apologise face to face and to sit down with relevant people and sort out a proper job description and role.

After the meeting I saw Malcolm Wright and spoke to John Shawcross and Richard Sykes who I am sure will confirm that at the time I was in shock and very upset by Glynn's action.

A few days later I asked Andrew Watkins why he had allowed himself to be involved in a serious disciplinary case when he is not an HR professional. He replied that had an employee been facing dismissal he would not have got involved.

Unfair dismissal – interview with Karen Rigg (Board Member responsible for Employees) and Andrew Watkins on 27th March

With the benefit of hindsight I think that Karen was unduly hostile towards me throughout the interview. I attended with my wife for support and as an HR Professional, Karen should have realised I was still in shock and taken this into account. She did the opposite. She opened the meeting with a statement that there was a strict time limit which I have never known before in disciplinary cases.

My first request was that Glynn's letter be withdrawn and that we go back and follow the 'Disciplinary Rules & Procedures for Working Members of the Society' (Attachment 6). Karen refused to do this and threatened to terminate the interview. What could I do? If the interview was terminated I had no other options. I had to accept what I consider to be grossly unfair treatment.

During the interview Karen stated that all Board members were aware that I was to be dismissed. I still believe that at the time we met on 24th March, Richard Sykes was not aware of this.

The blog was discussed and I asked for details of the comments which had offended Library staff. Karen raised various other issues including catering staff and I later compiled a list of blog posts mentioning the Library (Attachment 7). Only one dated 7th February 2009 was found to be of concern. Attachment 8 sets out that blog post and how it was amended to meet the staff's concerns.

Now we come to one of the strangest situations. I had written to Ian Dougill and Glynn Wilton and offered to work two days a week in the Library on a more formal basis (Attachment 9). I thought they would be pleased but Karen said that it was regarded as confrontational. At the interview I said this was cloud cuckoo land and I still believe that to be the case.

My question to the Panel is why wasn't my request considered?

Unfair dismissal – Karen's report dated April 2009

Broadly speaking Karen's report was acceptable and it identified short comings on both sides. The report makes the following observations:

'Mr Lomas should have been advised without delay of the membership structure of the committee as soon as he expressed his interest.'

'Whilst there is clearly a requirement for additional, defined, human resource within the Library ...this has not yet been quantified. ... Mr Lomas should have been advised of this situation without delay, enabling him to consider his position in view of information received.' I would have continued as a casual volunteer concentrating on the artefact store pending the opportunity to apply for a formal job. I would have continued to try to get my voice and my concerns heard.

' is reasonable to say that the manner in which the dismissal was carried out was not in accordance with the Disciplinary Rules and Procedures for Working members of the Society.'

'Mr Lomas's former position within the Library will not be re-instated, he is of course free to apply for any positions that do become available in the future' I have stated that I will apply for any position that I think I could reasonably carry out.

I think that Karen is biased towards employees. To succeed in the future our Museum will need volunteers and employees working side by side as equals as has been achieved in the workshop.

Unfair dismissal – Final Appeal

  • The nub of my appeal is that the punishment simply does not fit the alleged crime. I have been banned for life from working as a volunteer in the Library when I think that, at the most, I should have been suspended pending a full investigation.
  • The report acknowledges that I have not been treated correctly on several occasions but makes no proposals to me in mitigation of this.

  • The report does not offer any explanation or mitigation of the actions taken by the Curator, the Librarian and the Photographic officer on10th or 11th February 2009. I was taken to a private room and subjected to an interrogation lasting about an hour and a half by the three of them. This was without any notification as to their intention. I understand that the Curator did not submit a formal report of this meeting to his manager.

I think that the Panel should investigate this incident and make it absolutely clear that this behaviour is completely unacceptable and that any similar action would be regarded as gross misconduct.

The distress caused to me should be taken into account by the Panel.
  • I have not been given credit for the regular work that I have done over a three year period. I have asked the Curator if I could be considered for the Collections Management Committee many, many times during this period. He never gave a satisfactory response.
  • Finally I attach a statement of Good Practice from 'Volunteers and the Law', a Home Office approved publication.
While it is true that volunteers do not have many 'rights', it is of course important to avoid practices that could be seen as unfair or discriminatory. As well as the clear moral case for this, no organisation would be able to retain volunteers for long if they felt they were being poorly treated.

Organisations involving volunteers should make it their duty to keep abreast of good practice in volunteer management. Many local and national bodies offer training on volunteering issues, and organisations such as Volunteering England produce publications, information sheets and other guidance on working with volunteers.

Volunteers should be covered by equal opportunities policies. They should have regular opportunities to discuss their work with a manager or supervisor, and know exactly what to do if there is a problem.

Richard Lomas

13th July 2009

In mid-October, the Panel's report reduced my dismissal to suspension but bizarrely left it to Glyn Wilton to determine the length and conditions of the suspension. At the time I fully expected to be allowed to return to the Library in the near future.

DOCUMENT 3 dated Oct 25th

I have now read the Report carefully. It is very thorough and makes a number of recommendations which I suggest should be published and distributed with Contact.
The Report highlights a number of problems and contradictions that need to be addressed. I think that the Society has policy documents in place for cosmetic purposes.

Section 3
Paragraph 7 section 9 contradicts Section 3. The Home Office guidelines state that working volunteers should be respected and accorded broadly similar terms and conditions as those enjoyed by employees who are protected by legislation. If this had been applied everyone round the Board table would have said that the Disciplinary Procedures must be followed for volunteers in the same way as the law demands for employees.

The fact that the Board members formed different conclusions as to the outcome of a discussion and that the accuracy and transparency of minuting has been challenged is obviously an important contributory factor. This is a situation when the chairman of a meeting must ensure that the minute is read out and accepted by all before moving to the next item of the agenda.

Section 4
Paragraph 2. My concern was that neither the Collections Management Committee nor the Board were aware of the work that I was doing or the scale of the backlog. Glynn himself had always been appreciative.

Paragraph 4 describes Glynn's actions on 10 or 11 February. This is completely unacceptable behaviour and you need to ensure that Glynn does not do this again because an employee would be able to report this to an industrial relations tribunal and win.

Section 5
In the first paragraph Mrs Lomas should read Mr Lomas.

Paragraph 5 again contradicts Section 7 paragraph 9. I have written to Mr Blake asking him for the evidence and the basis on which he formed his opinion and if he took the Home Office guidelines into account. I believe that Ian Dougill was negligent as both Secretary and as Glynn's line manager in not ensuring that the Disciplinary Procedure was followed. This will be the subject of a formal grievance.

Finally Glynn said that the suspension should last until those the subject of harassment were no longer employed in the Library. 

This needs to be reworded as no harassment has been proved. I suggest the present employees were no longer employed in the Library. This will reflect Glynn's opinion without making allegations that I would have to challenge.

Section 7
Paragraph 2. I would ask you to draw the Board's attention to this finding and then to be able to assure me that all Board members endorse it.

Paragraph 9. The problem is that it is not enforced. The attitude 'only a volunteer' by some employees is becoming too prevalent.

Section 8
I think that in line with Section 10 Paragraph 4 the duration of the formal suspension and the nature of any conditions attached to it should be approved at the next Board meeting. (I have already mentioned this to Lynda Wright and will raise it with Richard Sykes and Karen Rigg when we meet next Sunday to discuss Accreditation).

I think that there is one more factor in all of this that is not mentioned in the Report. In the first instance the Board accepted a verbal report form Glynn and at least three members of the Board were quite happy for me to be dismissed without having the opportunity to state my case and without the right of appeal. This and the long drawn out timescales is something on which I would welcome your views.

Finally on December 15th I received a letter from Colin Heaton telling me that the suspension is for life.
2009 should have been a year for celebrating 50 Years of Crich and, for me, remembering how I joined the TMS as a 17 year old schoolboy in 1959. Instead it has been a dreadful year of conflict.

The only reason I can think of is that perhaps Board members allowed themselves to be manipulated. 'Either he goes or we go' which could be regarded as blackmail. Or was I about to stumble over 'something nasty in the woodshed'?

The hardest parts for me were the fact that the TMS Board was quite happy for Glynn to spend our money on a consultant to advise him how to get rid of me. Then my hopes were raised when his dismissal was reduced to suspension but after a wait of eight weeks I was told it was to be permanent.


  1. Richard,

    I think the way you have been treated is utterly shocking. I don't know why you continue to go to the museum after what they have done to you.

    I have been a working member for more than 20 years and your story is making me consider whether I want to find a new hobby.

  2. Vambac 111/1/10 13:11

    and the powers to be at Crich wonder why they find it so hard to attract volounteers.......