A former law firm employee was dismissed because of redundancy measures made necessary during lockdown, an employment tribunal has found.

Jean Barends, who had worked at Cambridgeshire firm Adlams Solicitors since 2001, had alleged she was unfairly dismissed and suggested other ‘more sinister’ factors were involved.

Sitting at Bury St Edmunds tribunal, Employment Judge R Wood said the claimant had a ‘tendency to perceive events through an emotionally sensitive prism’ and so her account of events, and their interpretation, had to be treated cautiously.

The judge concluded that the desire to reorganise the department to save costs was a ‘justified and genuine exercise’, and there had been a ‘clear diminution’ in the work she had previously undertaken. He said the proposal that three part-time support staff were to be made redundant to be replaced with one full-time conveyancing assistant was a genuine one, although the plan was later changed.

The judge rejected an accusation of bullying by one of the partners.

The tribunal heard that the firm had acted following the collapse of housing transactions during the early stages of the pandemic. Barends was presented with various options: apply for the proposed new conveyancing assistant role, apply to be a family department paralegal or take on the role of afternoon receptionist.

She agreed to take the receptionist role but after a trial period rejected the chance to do it permanently. She also rejected the chance to apply for the assistant job. Her employment came to an end in October 2020.

The judge said the firm had gone to ‘some lengths’ to find Barends alternative employment and to keep her on in some capacity. The claim was dismissed.