‘Whistleblower’ sacked after saying energy company scammed customers won payment

A call center worker sacked after claiming Scottish Power was ‘knowingly’ overcharging customers for their energy bills has won a £28,000 payout.

Thippawan MacLean has told a court she does not believe it is “legally or morally appropriate” to ask customers to pay over the phone based on “estimates” which may be higher than their actual bills.

Her employers fired her after she was ordered by Scottish Power to get rid of ‘underperformers’ who ‘missed opportunities’ to accept payment from customers and therefore failed to meet targets.

However, an employment tribunal ruled the company sided with Scottish Power and then carried out ‘mock’ disciplinary proceedings to get rid of them, which was unavoidable and ‘prejudiced’.

Ms MacLean has now received £27,861.30 in compensation for being unfairly dismissed.

The Scottish court heard Ms MacLean, who is a Thai national, worked as a call center agent for the Kura company for almost seven years.

In 2020 she was working in the ‘Home Move’ team, dealing with customers who were moving and therefore starting and ending their provision of utility services with Scottish Power.

Until she was sacked in 2020, the court heard Ms MacLean was seen as a ‘successful’ employee who had won ‘awards and bonuses’ for her work at the Kura call center in Forres, on the north coast from Moray in Scotland.

But at the start of the pandemic in March 2020, employees were forced to work from home, leading to “problems” in its ability to collect payment from customers over the phone.

The court heard that Scottish Power was increasingly focusing on payment collections and would monitor how much each agent collected each week.

When no attempt to collect money by telephone was made, it was considered a “missed opportunity”.

After receiving insufficient training on her mobile phone, Ms MacLean’s cashouts fell to “zero” in May 2020.

She also found it “wrong” to ask customers to pay a final bill based on an “estimated reading” and found the practice resulted in “substantial overcharging” in many cases, the court heard.

In June, and at the request of Scottish Power, Ms MacLean was selected as one of the ‘worst performing officers’ by her company.

The court was told that Scottish Power planned to ‘remove’ some of these workers from the call centre.

During a meeting later that month, Ms MacLean was told she was being investigated for ‘underperformance’, but she argued it was neither ‘legally nor morally” appropriate to request payments based on estimates.

A few days later, she was invited to a disciplinary hearing for “underperformance and failure to follow a procedure”.

Ms MacLean complained that she could not accept payment over the phone with the new technology given to her and reiterated that it was wrong to ‘lie’ and ‘knowingly overcharge’ customers.

However, she was dismissed as a ‘business risk’ in the ‘predetermined’ decision ordered by Scottish Power.

Ms MacLean chose not to appeal the decision and instead launched claims of gender and race discrimination, breach of contract and wrongful dismissal.

The first three requests were denied, but she won her wrongful dismissal case on the grounds that the decision to fire her had already been made and all the disciplinary meetings were just for show.

Labor judge Sally Cowen said: “Ms MacLean did not feel comfortable asking people to pay amounts based on an estimated account.

“The Tribunal considered that this may be partly a reason why Kura was not ready to defend her to Scottish Power.

“However, the Tribunal found that it was not reasonable for Kura to treat Scottish Power’s application as sufficient reason to dismiss it.

“They did not contest Scottish Power’s order, nor shield or mitigate the injustice to Mrs MacLean of such a decision.

“The decision to terminate the Applicant was entirely prejudiced and nothing the Applicant said at the investigation or disciplinary hearing was likely to make a difference.

“Like [one employee] conceded, it was a sham. It therefore lacked both fairness and transparency.”

Kura was ordered to pay Ms MacLean £27,861.30 in basic and compensatory allowances.