A British coronavirus contact tracer who has said she was sacked from Serco for blowing the whistle on a data breach had part of her legal case thrown out because she was working for a mini umbrella company and not Serco itself, a judge has ruled.
The woman, named by Bristol Employment Tribunal as Miss S Messi, also alleged that Serco had forged documents in an effort to show that she wasn’t directly employed by the notorious outsourcing firm.
In a previously unreported ruling handed down in May, Employment Judge Paul Cadney said Serco “submits that the picture is of an entirely conventional agency worker agreement in which the worker is the employee of the agency and/or possibly in this case Jackpotcomics Ltd, and that there is no need to imply any direct contractual relationship at all between it and the claimant.”
The judgement was in response to Messi's application for a legal order forcing Serco to keep her employed until the case was concluded.
Messi had been employed by Jackpotcomics Ltd to work on Serco’s national NHS Test and Trace scheme, she told the tribunal.
In March this year she filed a case with the employment tribunal alleging she was sacked after making a public interest disclosure to the UK Information Commissioner about leaking of personal data: in other words, whistleblowing.
That public interest disclosure was a March 2021 revelation that contact tracers’ personal data (user IDs and passwords) had been wrongly disclosed during training sessions, according to Messi. Serco previously apologised for doing something similar last year. Not long afterwards, her contract came to an end.
“The difficulty for the claimant is that the documents before me disclose an entirely standard and conventional contractual relationship between a hirer, an employment business and the claimant,” said Judge Cadney.
“There is no evidence, beyond the claimant’s assertion, that the picture painted by the documents is not the true picture. In my judgement there is nothing before me today which would allow me to come close to holding the claimant had a good chance of being held to be an employee of the respondent.”
Messi claimed she was racially and sexually discriminated against, that Serco also discriminated against her on the basis of her having a disability, that the company retaliated against her for whistleblowing, and that she was wrongfully dismissed.
Serco told the tribunal that Messi had been secretly recording managers and sending correspondence to a “range of global Serco employees” in spite of being told to stop, something the tribunal echoed by noting she had sent it 116 emails between March and May.
The judge dismissed Messi’s application for a continuation of contract order. The case continues and the interlocutory judgment can be read here. ®
Commenting on a separate issue during the tribunal, Messi claimed that on 29 March she had seen a Guardian newspaper article about Test and Trace workers being employed through so-called mini umbrella companies.
A BBC investigation in May exposed an apparent tax avoidance scheme by G4S where 48,000 small businesses had been set up to exploit a tax break intended to help startups during the pandemic. The Guardian published a similar investigation on the same day.
Of the tax avoidance scheme, the state broadcaster reported: “It works by exploiting the government's Employment Allowance - an annual discount of £4,000 per company on National Insurance contributions… Each individual MUC has only a small number of workers and qualifies for the tax relief. These kind of arrangements can cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions in lost tax revenue a year.”