HR boss at The British Council in Dubai wins right to a UK tribunal

HR boss at The British Council in Dubai who lost her job while on maternity leave wins the right to sue her employer in a UK tribunal as judge says its diplomatic immunity ‘does not extinguish liability’

  • Ana-Maria Beldica worked as an HR manager for The British Council in Dubai 
  • Bosses claimed diplomatic immunity as they axed her job during maternity leave
  • Ms Beldica has now won the right for UK tribunal to hear her discrimination case

An HR boss at The British Council whose job in Dubai was ‘eliminated’ while she was on maternity leave has won the right for a British employment tribunal to hear her case for discrimination.

Ana-Maria Beldica was working as an equality team manager for the taxpayer-funded organisation in the United Arab Emirates but was told her job no longer existed less than two months before she was due to come back.

Romanian-born Ms Beldica tried to sue her employer in the UAE but was told that the charity could claim diplomatic immunity through its close links to the British government.

The British Council then resisted calls for a tribunal to be heard in the UK, arguing she had no right to do so because she had not worked for them in Britain.

But Ms Beldica has now won the right to sue in a domestic employment tribunal after a judge found that the British Council had attempted ‘to effectively put itself beyond the reach of law’ by resisting her bid to find justice in the UK.

Ana-Maria Beldica was working as an HR and equality team manager in the United Arab Emirates for taxpayer-funded The British Council, when she was told her role was to be scrapped shortly before returning from maternity leave

The British Council is a diplomatic and overseas development charity with close links to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

On its website it describes itself as ‘a non-departmental public body spending taxpayers’ money’ and which is ‘formally accountable to parliament’.

Ms Beldica was employed by the British Council from March 20, 2016, to December 31, 2020, as an HR manager responsible for providing support to its operations in Jordan, Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

On August 8, 2020, she started maternity leave, which was due to last until November 14, 2020.

But on September 24, 2020, with little over a month to go before she was due to return to work, her line manager informed her that her job no longer existed due to a restructure.

She was told she could apply for a role in the new structure, and several consultation meetings were held in November 2020, which confirmed her role was to be eliminated.

Ms Beldica was not offered an alternative position and she was notified that her employment would be terminated on December 31, 2020.

She made several complaints about her dismissal, but was told that her employment was governed by UAE law and she should take her case to the courts there.

But she found that red tape prevented her from doing so, as well as the ability of her employers to claim diplomatic immunity through its close UK governmental links, should she successfully sue them in the UAE.

The British Council has the ability to claim diplomatic immunity in the United Arab Emirates from employee lawsuits, leading a UK employment judge to rule that a tribunal will now take place in the UK

Ms Beldica then brought her case to the UK Employment Tribunal, where she found lawyers representing the British Council insisted her role was not connected with the UK.

But Employment Judge Pavel Klimov has now given her the right to bring her case, stating: ‘Immunity does not extinguish liability’.

He said in a previous case brought against the British Council by an employee in the UAE in 2014, the body had successfully argued that it could claim diplomatic immunity from being sued under local law, and was likely to do the same in Mrs Beldica’s case.

He said: ‘I find that the respondent’s immunity from being sued in the UAE effectively destroys the connection to that system of law, no matter how strong it otherwise would have been.

‘Immunity does not extinguish liability.

‘Customary international law and the UK domestic law in spirit, if not in letter, anticipate that immunity in the forum state must not result in the situation that an employee cannot pursue his/her employer in the employer’s state court.

‘I cannot see how it would have been Parliament’s intention to allow the respondent, essentially a private organisation, but through its close association with the executive branch of the UK state enjoying certain privileges – such as immunity from legal claims in foreign states – to effectively put itself beyond the reach of law.

‘That can’t be right.

‘The rule of law and the separation of powers with a system of checks and balances are fundamental principles underpinning the UK constitutional order and are essential elements of a functioning democracy.

‘The claimant’s complaints shall now proceed to be determined on their merits,’ he concluded.

Barring a settlement, the case will now go ahead in the UK employment tribunal at a later date.

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