HMRC Employee on Sick Leave Harassed With Multiple Emails and a Birthday Card Wins Tribunal Case

In Ms Toure v Commissioners for His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, an HMRC employee on sick leave has won her employment tribunal case. Her successful claims included harassment related to race and disability, victimisation, and discrimination arising from disability. Read on as we explore the unwanted conduct that transpired and the tribunal’s decision.

If you have faced harassment, victimisation or discrimination at work, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Redmans Solicitors are employment law specialists, and with our years of experience, we can answer your legal queries. If you have an eligible case, we could also help you navigate the legal process.

To begin:

The Facts in Ms Toure v Commissioners for His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs

Background of HMRC Employee on Sick Leave

Ms Toure (“The Claimant”) began her employment as a customer service consultant for His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (“The Respondent”) on 14 October 2019. She is a French national of African origin and a practising Muslim. Under the Equality Act 2010, she is considered disabled due to her asthma and a pituitary gland tumour.

During her first week of employment, the claimant attended a training session on telephone call handling. During this session, the trainer asked why people can sometimes be difficult to understand on the phone. A colleague, Mr Alam, responded, “pronunciation and accent” while pointing at her.

Then, on 12 December, the claimant told another colleague, Mrs Tselika-Scott, that Mr Alam had been mocking her accent. Mrs Tselika-Scott also disclosed that Mr Alam remarked, “It’s a good thing that you don’t look like one”, after learning she was Nigerian.

Operational team leader Wendy James arranged a meeting with the claimant to discuss the situation on 18 December. Mrs James also spoke with Mrs Tselika-Scott and, upon learning of the allegations, met with Mr Alam. Two days later, Mr Alam denied the allegations via email. He attributed his difficulty understanding the claimant during training to background noise and refuted the claims as a “false narrative”.

Following this, Mrs James organised a meeting between the pair. During the meeting, Mr Alam apologised for his comments, and the claimant agreed not to pursue the matter further.

Respondent Queries Expenses Claimed

In March 2020, due to Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, the claimant began working from home. Because of this, employees could claim certain expenses, including up to £6 per week for utility bills. 

The claimant did this but reportedly submitted her form incorrectly. As such, on 21 July, debt management site lead Dennis Gregory emailed her requesting receipts. Six days later, the claimant emailed her line manager, Hugh Henderson, expressing her frustration at being “accused, shouted at, discriminated against” and feeling under scrutiny since her employment began. Mr Henderson’s response did not address her mention of workplace discrimination.

Birthday Acknowledgement Leads to Privacy Concerns

Mr Henderson kept a record of his team’s birthdays and would acknowledge them in team meetings. On 2 August, he mentioned the claimant’s birthday, which she appreciated but did not like her personal information being disclosed. As a result, she requested to be removed from the birthday list, to which Mr Henderson apologised and complied.

Denied Training Concerns Spark an Informal Complaint

From August, the claimant felt she was being denied training opportunities and emailed Mr Gregory on 1 September about her concerns. Mr Gregory responded, expressing surprise and disappointment at her treatment, and copied a colleague to investigate. However, no action was taken, prompting her to raise an informal complaint on 28 September.

The claimant’s concerns were discussed in a meeting on 15 October, during which Mrs James learned about her disabilities. Mrs James later informed Mr Gregory that she believed there was no substantial evidence of discrimination, victimisation, or harassment, attributing the issues to the claimant’s perception. Mrs James noted a relationship breakdown between the claimant and her team and recommended a formal meeting to determine if she’d breached “standards of conduct”.

Grievance Raised by HMRC Employee on Sick Leave

On 9 November, the claimant raised a formal grievance and was temporarily transferred to another office. A meeting for the grievance occurred on 21 December, ultimately leading to it being mostly not upheld on 25 January 2021. 

However, the claimant appealed this decision and had also raised a second grievance earlier that month. As such, an appeal meeting occurred on 4 March. Sadly for the claimant, she learned on 23 March that both her appeal and second grievance were not upheld, and she had no further right to appeal.

OH Confirm Equality Act 2010 will Likely Apply

With her temporary transfer set to end, the claimant’s manager offered her the choice to remain in her new role but bear any additional costs or return to her original office. The claimant found neither option acceptable and requested to return to her original office under a different team or move without incurring costs.

Subsequently, on 25 May, Mr Gregory informed the claimant that she would return to her original office under Sarah Noble from 1 June. Despite this move, the claimant requested a further role change a few days later due to mental health issues. Unfortunately, this wasn’t possible due to a lack of opportunities. 

Then, on 9 June, an occupational health (OH) meeting revealed the claimant was suffering from “stress, anxiety, migraine, vertigo, weight loss, poor sleep, and low mood,” confirming that the Equality Act 2010 likely applied.

Claimant Commences Stress-Related Leave

The claimant commenced sick leave on 30 June, indicating she would provide a sick note if unwell on 2 July. She requested that only essential communication be made via email. 

Despite this, Mrs Noble attempted to contact the claimant numerous times, even sending her a card on her birthday. The HMRC employee on sick leave alleged that this worsened her symptoms. However, Mrs Noble maintained that the respondent had a duty of care to check on her and was unaware of her request to be removed from the birthday list.

Then, on 24 November, the respondent informed the claimant of a second OH referral and formal steps regarding her sickness absence. This led to the claimant initiating ACAS early conciliation multiple times over the following year, eventually filing three claims against the respondent.

The Employment Tribunal’s Judgment

The employment tribunal highlighted several instances where the HMRC employee on sick leave was subjected to unwanted conduct. From the rejection of her second transfer request to receiving various communications, including a birthday card while on sick leave and an email about her absences, the tribunal concluded that the respondent had created an intimidating and hostile environment for her.

As such, despite dismissing several of her claims, the tribunal ruled in the claimant’s favour. Specific claims concerning harassment related to race and disability, victimisation, and discrimination arising from disability succeeded. A future hearing will be scheduled to determine her compensation.

If you’ve been forced into stress-related leave and faced circumstances similar to the HMRC employee on sick leave, contact Redmans Solicitors now. As employment law specialists, we can assess your case and advise what you could do next. Get in touch with us without delay by: