Employee Prone to Panic Attack Wins a Case For Constructive Dismissal; ET Awards Over £22K

In the case of Ms V Lindsay v HBOS plc, an employee was found to have been constructively and unfairly dismissed by her employer. The employee was prone to frequent panic attacks and the employer has limited knowledge about it. This led to the employee being forced to resign as it was not a healthy working environment.

The Facts in Ms V Lindsay v HBOS plc

Ms V Lindsay (the “Claimant”) commenced employment with HBOS plc (the “Respondent”) on 4 September 2000. Her role was as a Mortgage and Protection Advisor and her line manager was Ms Jallow.  The Claimant argued that during her employment she had been forced to resign from her job due to a breach of mutual trust and confidence.

Since 2016 the Claimant suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder following a family bereavement which caused her anxiety and panic attacks.  The Respondent was aware of the Claimant’s condition and prior to October 2021, provided her with support in the workplace. She continued to work despite her condition.

On 17 October 2021 following a serious family disagreement, she suffered a panic attack. Soon, on 22 October 2021, the Claimant spoke to her line manager Ms Jallow. She expressed her fears over being ‘managed out’ due to her previous spells of sickness.

On 10 November 2021, the Claimant had another conversation with Ms Jallow. She informed her that returning to work after her sick note expired ‘”filled her with fear”.

During a telephone call on 15 November 2021, with the Claimant, Ms Jallow questioned if she would prefer returning to her role or changing roles entirely. To this, the Claimant expressed her anxiety over moving to a new role.

Towards the end of the month, on 30th November, the Claimant expressed her anxiety over seeing a job advertised she thought was hers. She was assured that this was not the case, and she was ‘catastrophising’. It was suggested to her that she should revisit her treatment and medication.

On 14 December 2021, the Claimant took an extended leave from 17 December 2021. It was agreed Ms Jallow would not contact her again until 17 January 2022. This was agreed upon as it would allow her to recover from her sickness.

However, on 17 December 2021, Ms Jallow contacted the Claimant regarding her posts on social media regarding her cake-making business whilst off work. The Claimant responded that this had been approved by the bank as a useful hobby with therapeutic benefits. The call caused the Claimant to have a panic attack.

On 21 December 2021, the Claimant contacted her trade union to discuss her situation. She also stated her desire to remain employed by the Respondent.

The Claimant contacted her trade union again, on 6 January 2022, and expressed her concerns regarding unfair treatment by her managers. She stated her desire to resign from her job and claim constructive dismissal. On 19 January 2022, the Claimant submitted her letter of resignation.

On 4 April 2022, the Claimant started work on a self-employed basis as a mortgage protection advisor.

The Decision of the Employment Tribunal

The tribunal found in favour of the Claimant that she was constructively and unfairly dismissed by the Respondent. This was due to a breach of mutual trust and confidence. The Respondent was ordered to pay to the Claimant a basic award of £9250 and a compensatory award of £13,054.72. 

In their discussion and analysis, the tribunal reached the conclusion that the actions of Ms Jallow in contacting the Claimant did amount to a breach of mutual trust and confidence. The two key factors were: –

  • the call on 30 November 2021 questioning the Claimant’s medical treatment; and
  • the call on 17 December 2021 that questioned the Claimant’s cake business despite it being agreed upon

Our Lawyer’s View on This Case

Steve Norton, a lawyer from Redmans, comments – In this case, the failings of the employer of any real understanding of the debilitating effect of panic attacks on a long-serving employee, resulted in a fundamental breakdown in the employment relationship, which enabled the employee to establish a prima facie case of constructive unfair dismissal.

The Decision of the Employment Tribunal can be found here