Social worker awarded £58,000 after she was suspended for sharing gender critical views on Facebook

Hundreds of thousands of social media users reported outages (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Wire)
Hundreds of thousands of social media users reported outages (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Wire)

A social worker who was suspended after sharing and liking gender critical views on Facebook has been awarded more than £58,000 by an employment tribunal.

Rachel Meade was found earlier this year to have been subjected to harassment by Westminster City Council and Social Work England (SWE) after being accused of engaging with discriminatory posts online.

She was sanctioned by SWE in 2021 for misconduct following complaints from a colleague she was sharing content which was offensive to the transgender community.

These included a link to a Private Eye satirical post, which stated: “Boys that identify as girls go to Girl Guides. Girls that identify as boys go to Boy Scouts. Men that identify as paedophiles go to either.”

Westminster City Council subsequently suspended Ms Meade, who had worked as a social worker for more than 20 years, and began a disciplinary investigation warning she could be sacked.

A general view of the Private Eye offices in Soho, London (John Stillwell/PA) (PA Archive)
A general view of the Private Eye offices in Soho, London (John Stillwell/PA) (PA Archive)

According to the tribunal’s judgement, the council’s Interim Director of Family Services, Helen Farrell, “considered that there was a case to answer in that the Claimant (Ms Meade) had used social media to share posts that were discriminatory in nature, had signed petitions and donated funds to organisations that discriminate against specific groups and had acted in a discriminatory manner”.

Both the sanction and the council’s warning were later withdrawn, though Ms Meade continued to file her claim with the Employment Tribunal arguing her beliefs were protected under the Equality Act 2010.

In its judgement issued in January, the Tribunal found both organisations subjected Ms Meade to harassment, and her Facebook posts were deemed to have fallen within her “protected rights for freedom of thought and freedom to manifest her beliefs”.

SWE and Westminster City Council have now been ordered to train managers on freedom of expression and pay Ms Meade £58,344.11 in damages.

Following the Tribunal’s decision, Ms Meade said: “It’s a huge relief that it’s finally over and that the ET awarded significant amount of compensation to reflect the serious nature of the harassment I experienced at the hands of my professional regulator and employer just for expressing legitimate beliefs and concerns.

“It remains concerning for our profession that as an organisation Social Work England cannot apologise or publicly acknowledge their mistaken stance to date. They urgently need to implement the findings of the CASS review into best practice”.

Shazia Khan, Partner at Cole Khan which represented Ms Meade, described the ruling as “a damning indictment of Social Work England and Westminster City Council’s prolonged and oppressive treatment of my client”.

“This should serve as a resounding warning to all Regulators that they must not let their processes be weaponised by activists who seek to punish and silence legitimate debate”.

A Westminster City Council spokesperson said: “We have received the findings of the remedy hearing and will need to take a little time to digest before responding more fully. We have apologised to Rachel Meade and the points which emerged during the tribunal and remedy hearing are an important and helpful guide in clarifying what is acknowledged to be a rapidly evolving area of employment law.”

Colum Conway, Chief Executive of Social Work England, said: “We are considering the outcome of the remedy judgement against Social Work England. We are committed to learning from this case. As the regulator for the social work profession in England, we exist to protect the public, as set out in legislation. As such, we will continue to consider every concern we receive about a social worker.

“We recognise that this has been a particularly difficult case for those involved, conducted against a backdrop of debate on many issues within society in relation to freedom of expression. Our professional standards reflect the diversity of social work practice and the positive impact it has on people’s lives, families and communities. We will continue our work in this area and clearly articulate the reasons when there are reasonable grounds to investigate a social worker’s fitness to practise.”