Employee Wins Employment Tribunal Disability Discrimination Claim After Near-Fatal Allergic Reaction

In the case of Mr O Ajanaku v Monsas Ltd, Mr Ajanaku succeeded with his claims of discrimination arising from disability and notice pay. This was after a preliminary hearing determined his anaphylaxis made him a disabled employee. Following the employment tribunal’s ruling, Mr Ajanaku’s compensation will be determined in the future.

If you have experienced disability discrimination, read our guide to learn more. You can also contact us to have your questions answered and determine your possible next steps.

The Facts in Mr O Ajanaku v Monsas Ltd

Background – The Beginning of Mr Ajanaku’s Employment

Mr Ajanaku (“The Claimant”) began employment with Monsas Ltd (“The Respondent”) on 3 August 2021. He was a compliance and onboarding analyst who reported to Sally Rigg, the head of compliance and money laundering reporting.

Initially, Mr Ajanaku impressed the respondent, passing his three-month probationary period on 29 September and receiving a bonus. However, Ms Rigg highlighted a ‘general perception’ about the claimant that he worked for another company during his contracted hours. She explained that this resulted in him ignoring phone calls and emails and having poor work output.

The Wedding Incident

On 23 April 2022, Mr Ajanaku was the best man at his brother’s wedding. During the event, he consumed food he didn’t know had been seasoned with peanut spice. Due to his peanut allergy, he went into anaphylactic shock, making him wholly immobile and was later sent to the hospital.

After a near-death incident and receiving treatment in the resuscitation ward, the claimant was sent home. He was given a course of medication and told not to work for the next five days.

Mr Ajanaku’s Work Absence

Following the doctor’s instructions, Mr Ajanaku didn’t go to work on 25 April, informing his colleague, Ms Meghan Millward, about what happened. He believed she would tell everyone and evidenced this.

On 3 May, the claimant’s line manager emailed him requesting a medical certificate by the end of the week. Ms Rigg explained this was because he’d been absent for over three days (between 25 and 29 April).

Email Correspondence With Ms Rigg

Between 5 and 9 May, Mr Ajanaku and Ms Rigg discussed his absence. The claimant began by questioning Ms Rigg’s request for a medical certificate as he’d been absent for less than seven days. He believed that, according to ACAS, during an absence that’s less than seven days, he could self-certify.

After several messages and a disagreement, Ms Rigg informed the claimant he’d been put on notice. She explained disciplinary action would be taken if he didn’t produce the certificate by noon on 6 May. In such circumstances, a formal interview would occur at 3 p.m. that day.

The Disciplinary Meeting

Since the claimant didn’t produce the certificate, a meeting occurred on 6 May. The meeting was between Mr Ajanaku, Ms Rigg, the operations director and the company’s CEO. The meeting began as a performance review but turned into a disciplinary meeting following the claimant’s behaviour, according to Ms Rigg.

During the meeting, the claimant again stated he wanted to self-certify his absence. However, he offered to yield should Ms Rigg produce the Monsas policy that outlines he must do otherwise.

Following the meeting, Mr Ajanaku was given an extension to provide the certificate by 9 May. Again, the claimant didn’t provide it, explaining he would’ve, should a lawful request have been made. Also, he continued to request the Monsas policy.

A Decision To Dismiss

At some point during this period, the respondent’s CEO, Mr Herriot, decided to dismiss Mr Ajanaku and instructed Ms Rigg to execute it. He explained the decision was influenced by the claimant’s “unreliable and shirking work”. However, he ultimately said the refusal to provide the certificate was the “straw that broke the camel’s back”.

On 10 May, Ms Rigg provided Mr Ajanaku with his dismissal letter. The letter reasoned that since the claimant had been absent during his contracted hours without providing an explanation, the respondent was entitled to terminate his contract without notice.

Following Mr Ajanaku’s dismissal, he brought claims of unfair dismissal, disability discrimination, notice pay and holiday pay against the respondent on 8 June 2022.

The Decision of the Employment Tribunal

Although not all of Mr Ajanaku’s claims succeeded, two of them did.

Discrimination Arising From Disability

Regarding discrimination arising from disability, the tribunal believed the respondent had a legitimate reason to request the medical certificate to monitor attendance. However, they held that not informing the claimant of their right to request it under their policy amounted to unfavourable treatment.

They also believed the meeting had a legitimate aim of assessing the claimant’s attendance. Yet, again, they ruled this amounted to unfavourable treatment because it quickly turned into a disciplinary meeting and didn’t comply with company policy. The respondent didn’t inform Mr Ajanaku of the allegations against him nor the possible outcomes of the meeting. Additionally, they didn’t provide him with time to prepare for the meeting or enable him to be accompanied.

Furthermore, the tribunal dismissed the respondent’s reasoning that the claimant’s performance played a part in his dismissal. They explained the dismissal letter only pointed towards the claimant’s absence and refusal to provide a certificate as the reason. 

They added that had the claimant not been absent, he wouldn’t have been dismissed for poor performance, especially when he’d never been addressed about this. As such, the tribunal ruled this also amounted to unfavourable treatment.

As a result, the claimant’s specific disability discrimination claim succeeded. This is because the unfavourable treatment he’d been subjected to resulted from his absence, amounting to discrimination arising from disability.

Notice Pay

Concerning Mr Ajanaku’s notice pay, the tribunal discussed the respondent’s reasons for terminating his contract without notice due to gross misconduct. The respondent reasoned that the claimant had committed gross misconduct because he:

  • (i) Had been underperforming
  • (ii) Wasn’t contactable
  • (iii) Didn’t complete pieces of work 
  • (iv) Took far longer than others to complete his work
  • (v) Didn’t follow the sickness absences policy 
  • (vi) Refused a reasonable management instruction

The tribunal instantly dismissed reasons (i), (iii) and (iv), explaining they were potential performance issues, not misconduct ones. Furthermore, since the claimant initially reported his absence, the tribunal dismissed reason (v).

Regarding the respondent’s reasoning that the claimant wasn’t contactable, the tribunal highlighted instances where he was. For example, he attended the meeting on 6 May as requested. They added that even if he weren’t as contactable as the respondent would’ve liked, this wouldn’t have amounted to gross misconduct.

Finally, the tribunal addressed reason (vi) and held that it didn’t amount to gross misconduct. This was because he had reason to believe he didn’t have to provide a medical certificate, following ACAS advice. Moreover, he’d shown he would provide it had the respondent supplied a legitimate reason.

Therefore, the tribunal concluded the claimant shouldn’t have been dismissed for gross misconduct. As a result, they held he was entitled to notice pay, and this claim succeeded.

If you have experienced any form of disability discrimination, contact us today. We can assess your case and advise how to proceed.