A LEADING human rights advocate accused of “mistreating” a worker who recently returned from maternity leave has been condemned for behaving in a “way no reasonable employer would have acted”.

John Wilkes, now chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in Scotland, oversaw wrongful dismissals for two members of staff while he spearheaded operations at the Scottish Refugee Council (SRC).

He was found to have “a surprisingly poor understanding of the SRC’s policies and procedures” as claimants Petra Kasparek and Stephen McGuire were awarded around £20,000 and £7,500 respectively.

The ruling comes as the EHRC faces ongoing industrial action over separate redundancies made by the Commission.

Mr Wilkes moved there from the SRC in April this year.

Petra Kasparek, who had recently returned from maternity leave when she was identified for dismissal, said the financial award had been little compensation for losing a job she loved.

“I was sad to leave the SRC in such circumstances,” she said.

“I was very disappointed to have been treated so unfairly.

“I hope that the success of my tribunal claim will lead to improvements in practices, so that my former colleagues at the SRC will never go through what I did.”

During a four-day hearing Glasgow Employment Tribunal heard that both workers had been made redundant by the refugee support charity on June 30 last year.

However the dismissals could have been avoided if the SRC had adopted alternative proposals put forward by their union, Unite.

In addition Mr McGuire had been unfairly treated because the SRC’s own policies on handling redundancies had not been adhered to.

Ms Kasparek had been a victim of indirect sex discrimination in the course of a competitive interview process used to select employees for redundancy. While SRC had allowed her to appeal against her dismissal, the SRC’s head of finance Kes Cameron had rejected this, in a process described by the tribunal as “little more than a sham”.

The tribunal said evidence from Mr Wilkes and Ms Cameron had been unimpressive and while they had been “doing their best” to be truthful they had shown a “striking lack of insight or appreciation of the criticisms levelled at their decisions”.

By rejecting reasonable proposals from Unite which might have prevented the two employees from being dismissed, the tribunal said: “Mr Wilkes was in our judgment acting in a way no reasonable employer would have acted.”

Mr McGuire was ordered to be reinstated into his former post of refugee integration adviser and awarded £7,284 in in legal expenses and lost wages.

Ms Kasparek was awarded £8,466, as well as £10,000 for injury to feelings and £1,200 in expenses.

A spokesman for Unite Glasgow said: “The message for not for profit sector employers form this judgment is straight forward. If you mistreat our members, we will take you on, and we will win.”

Gary Christie, the SRC’s interim chief executive since Mr Wilkes’ departure, said: “Like many charities, we face difficult staffing decisions in tight timeframes when project funding streams come to an end and no new funding is in place.

“The tribunal decision shows that in this instance we got it wrong. The board and management team will carefully consider the judgment in detail. The charity will implement all necessary actions to make sure when difficult redundancy situations regrettably arise in the future we do so equitably, and in line with our policies.”

Mr McGuire, the EHRC and Mr Wilkes all declined to comment.