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02 February 2024

Case report – Mr Charles Wilkinson v Areaworks Group Limited & Ors.

Case Number 2204365/2021

Summary of the case
The Payne Hicks Beach Employment team, led by James Townsend, Partner and Co-Head of Employment and Domonique McRae, Senior Associate, successfully acted for Mr. Wilkinson in a complex claim arising from various protected disclosures he had made to his employer during the course of his employment, concerning alleged abuse of the government furlough scheme, that ultimately lead to the termination of his employment.

Mr. Wilkinson was employed by Areaworks Group Limited (“Areaworks”) from May 2018 to May 2021, but following the start of the pandemic, in common with millions of others, was furloughed by his employer.

Whilst he was being furloughed, it was brought to Mr Wilkinson’s attention that his employer was misusing the scheme and keeping staff on furlough whilst employing cheaper alternative workers to perform the tasks of those who were being furloughed and funded at tax payer expense.

Mr Wilkinson blew the whistle on the fact that Areaworks were abusing the furlough scheme and was treated to his detriment and sacked as a result.

Mr Wilkinson brought claims before the Central London Employment Tribunal against Areaworks and its two Directors personally, who were represented by US Law Firm Squire Patton Boggs during the initial stages of the case.

The London Central Employment Tribunal determined that Mr Wilkinson had been unfairly and wrongfully dismissed and that he had suffered various unlawful detriments as a result of him having made protected disclosures concerning abuse of the furlough scheme.

Not only was Areaworks found liable for unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal and for having treated Mr Wilkinson detrimentally for having made protected disclosures, but Mr Wilkinson’s line manager was also found to be personally liable for the detrimental treatment afforded to Mr Wilkinson.

The Tribunal awarded Mr Wilkinson not only his lost income, but also made additional awards for injured feelings and aggravated damages in the total sum of £20,000, for which Mr Wilkinson’s line manager is personally liable.

The issue of wasted costs incurred during the course of proceedings was settled in Mr Wilkinson’s favour without the need for a further hearing.

HM Revenue and Customs acknowledged in its annual report that about 8.7% of the £60 Billion it paid out under the furlough scheme in the 2020-21 tax year ended up in the hands of organised crime gangs, fraudsters or was awarded erroneously.

Wasted tax payer funds associated with the now ended coronavirus job retention scheme remains an issue that the government have simply failed to fully tackle, which is perhaps unsurprising in circumstances where its main architect is standing for re-election as the nation’s Prime Minister at the next election.

The PHB team are experts in bringing and defending high value and complex whistleblowing claims, with James Townsend during the course of his career having been involved in the seminal Court of Appeal case of Kuzel v Roche Products Ltd [2008] EWCA Civ 380, which amongst other matters established the burden of proof in whistleblowing claims.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article, please do not hesitate to contact James Townsend.

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James Townsend
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