Harris v John – claimant awarded £15,000 after “intentional harassment” by employer

redmans-blog-analysisIn the case of Harris v John (ET 1400817/15) the Employment Tribunal held that an employee who was disabled (she had breast cancer and depression) was discriminated against by her employer when grievance and disciplinary hearings were held with undue haste, and that she was harassed by the suggestion of a manager that she was lying about her cancer diagnosis.

Ms Harris suffered from breast cancer (she had undergone a double mastectomy) and depression. Ms Harris submitted a grievance relating to a number of incidents and her employer then put a number of allegations to her that it stated may constitute misconduct. Her employer conducted a speedy investigation of the allegations relating to the disciplinary and grievance procedure and undertook hearings in respect of both procedures a short time after. Ms Harris was dismissed as a result of the disciplinary procedure.

In respect of the grievance procedure, the grievance hearing was undertaken by Ms Silverwood. In the grievance outcome letter Ms Silverwood suggested that Ms Harris did not have cancer and that Ms Harris’ double mastectomy was elective.

Ms Harris brought claims to the Employment Tribunal arising from her employment and her dismissal of unfair dismissal, discrimination arising from disability, disability-related harassment, indirect discrimination, and failure to make reasonable adjustments.

The Employment Tribunal ruled in Ms Harris’ favour in respect of her claims for unfair dismissal, failure to make reasonable adjustments, indirect discrimination, and disability-related harassment. The Employment Tribunal held that holding the disciplinary hearing and grievance hearing at short notice put Ms Harris, who suffered from depression, at a substantial disadvantage, and that she should have been allowed extra time to prepare for them. The Employment Tribunal also held that the contents of Ms Silverwood’s grievance letter had the purpose or effect of harassing Ms Harris.

At a subsequent remedies hearing Ms Harris was awarded £16,547 for loss of earnings plus a pension loss of £4,480, as well as £15,000 for injury to feelings. The Employment Tribunal applied an ‘uplift’ of 15% to the compensatory award due to her employer’s failure to comply with the ACAS Code of Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures but also applied a 75% reduction to the compensatory award to account for Ms Harris’ contributory fault (as a result of the allegations that had made made regarding her conduct). The Tribunal also awarded Ms Harris her court fees of £1,200.

The Employment Tribunal ruled that the reason that they were awarding £15,000 for injury to feelings was that Ms Harris had hoped that the grievance procedure could be resolved fairly but that her hopes on this point had been ‘dashed’ by the grievance hearing being rushed through. Further, the Employment Tribunal also found that Ms Silverwood’s outcome letter was “insult being added to injury” on a sensitive matter to Ms Harris and was deliberate conduct on Ms Silverwood’s part.

Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “Employers must take care to ensure that grievance and disciplinary procedures are carried out fairly, and must ensure that employees with disabilities are not disadvantaged in any way by the manner in which those procedures are implemented – if disabled employees are subject to such disadvantages then this may constitute a claim for disability discrimination, as in this case. Getting it wrong can be expensive.”