A finance director was fired for trying to raise the alarm that his company was seemingly going broke and trading illegally.
Sam Williams went on to sue for unfair dismissal and was paid £754,380 in compensation for the way he was treated at ABP (London) Investment.
The executive, 58 at the time, alerted bosses when he received an £11,628 bill to insure a Bentley and a Rolls-Royce.
He sent an email to CEO Ying Xu, saying: ‘Unless we know where the money is coming from, we cannot commit to this expenditure as we already owe too much money.
‘Frankly, we do not have the funds to operate the business.’
The employment tribunal in London was told that Mr Williams believed this was a ‘very serious matter for the directors’.
He cautioned that they were likely to break insolvency law – because they were unable to repay their debts – and were at risk of wrongful and fraudulent trading in the UK.
When suppliers started to take legal action to try and claim their money, Mr Williams again tried to warn his boss.
He sent an email saying: ‘I believe there is now a very real danger the [company] is trading whilst insolvent and that the company directors are directly exposed to the implications of wrongful and/or fraudulent trading.
‘With this, comes the direct risk of civil and criminal sanctions.’
Eventually, in February 2020, chairman Wei Ping Xu told Mr Williams he wanted him to leave the business.
But Mr Williams stayed on – until he felt he had to flag danger again in April that year.
He told senior managers the firm owed more than £3 million to creditors but had less than £300,000 in the bank.
During this time, Mr Williams was ‘undermined’ and ‘treated detrimentally’ for whistleblowing, employment judge Carol Porter found.
She said: ‘He was excluded and prevented from doing his job, including dealing with his team. Other people were being asked to fulfil his role but were doing it badly.
‘He was left, as finance director, to deal with a barrage of correspondence and complaints from suppliers who were blaming (him), as finance director, for their unpaid invoices.
‘He was personally and professionally embarrassed and humiliated both within the [company] and the wider London real estate community (which in London and the southeast is relatively small) by reason of the detrimental treatment and the dismissal.’
Mr Williams was fired in September 2020, which had a significant impact on him, leaving him feeling ‘wounded’.
The tribunal heard he has had trouble sleeping and his relationship with his partner had become ‘strained’.
‘Ultimately the dismissal caused him significant stress and anxiety,’ the judge said.
He added that ‘Mr Williams had begun to wonder about his own sanity and suffered a loss of confidence’.
ABP was ordered to pay out £754,000 – almost £200,000 for future loss of earnings, £27,000 for injury to feelings and £25,000 in aggravated damages for the way it had conducted the tribunal proceedings.
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