Unfair Dismissal Due to Disablility

In the case of Mrs E Worsley v Commissioners for HM Revenue and Customs: 2400096/2016, the Employment Tribunal held that the Claimant was unfavourably treated because of reasons arising from her disability. Furthermore, she faced unfair dismissal pursuant to section 98 Employment Rights Act 1996.

The Facts in Mrs E Worsley v Commissioners for HM Revenue and Customs

The Claimant, Elaine Worsley, started working for the respondent in 1970 at 16.  She was working in a team of 11 people at Albert Bridge House, managed by Linda Marrison.  Their relationship was very good at first; there is even evidence of Ms Marrison giving chocolates to the Claimant. However, the Claimant feels the relationship became worse after August 2014.

The breakdown of their relationship started over an annual leave issue when Ms Marrison assigned the Claimant to work over New Year’s Eve. The Claimant felt that Ms Marrison wasn’t willing to compromise. In turn, this clash of personalities affected the ‘health, sleeping pattern and appetite’ of the Claimant.

There were a number of attempts to organise a meeting between the Claimant and Ms Marrison. But it didn’t work out as the Claimant wanted someone to accompany her to the meeting.  Eventually, the meeting took place and according to an independent witness, the Claimant was suffering from depression at the time.

According to the witness, Ms Mitchell:

“Elaine said she felt there was a clash of personalities between herself and Linda and that it was affecting her health, sleeping pattern and appetite. She wasn’t opening her emails until leaving work as she dreaded what was in them. She felt the only solution was a move off the team. Linda didn’t look up but responded ‘like that’s ever going to happen’. There was no other discussion on the matter.”

On 6 November 2014, the Claimant had a tempered exchange with her manager after arriving at work. In the upcoming days, there were further few occasions which clearly showed the hostility between the two. Consequently, there was another meeting arranged. The Claimant tried to reschedule but, after the third attempt, Ms Marrrison threatened the Claimant with insubordination.

Then, the Claimant met with Ms Foxly, Ms Marrison’s manager, where she reiterated her accusations of bullying by Ms Marrison. In addition, the Claimant tells her about a letter from her GP that states she was being bullied. On 1 December 2014, the Claimant handed in a nine-page document detailing allegations of bullying by Ms Marrison.

Ms Marrison, on 5 December 2014, informed the Claimant via e-mail of her removal from overtime work due to her behaviour. Furthermore, she argued that it would be good for the Claimant as she would be able to maintain a healthier work/life balance.  Overtime work was, however, an important part of her income and she enjoyed the work. And hence, this points toward her unfair removal.

On 18 December 2014, the Claimant went on sick leave and never returned to work.

The Claimant received many letters from the respondents which caused her huge distress. Ultimately, she developed a serious phobia about opening letters. Furthermore, a letter from the GP on 9 January 2015 confirms her increasing depression.

Ms Marrison contacted HR for advice regarding the Claimant and described her to be insubordinate and difficult at work. The HR’s advice was that “keeping in touch” duties be passed from Ms Marrison to another manager, which wasn’t followed.

Mr Woods, the decision maker in relation to the Claimant’s employment,  invited her to a meeting. However, the Claimant wasn’t able to attend and argued that she is on sick leave due to depression. Mr Woods then proceeded to deal with the disciplinary hearing without the Claimant.  On 13 April 2015, he issued a letter dismissing the Claimant. In the letter, he said there was “no prospect of you returning to work within a reasonable time”.

The Claimant appealed against her unfair dismissal and argued that the employer is under obligation to make reasonable adjustments for her, due to her disability. The adjustment she asked for was to move her away from her current manager, Ms Marrison. However, the appeal officer, Mr Caren, rejected the Appeal letter. Furthermore, the Claimants’ grievance was also rejected on 21 August 2015.

The Decision of the Employment Tribunal – Unfair Dismissal

The Employment Tribunal held that a reasonable employer of this size would not have dismissed the claimant based on the facts presented above. The Tribunal argued that the appeal officer didn’t consider Claimant’s disability and illness by stating that there was “no prospect of returning to work within a reasonable time”. The Tribunal finds this finding was not based on evidence and, consequently, stated that the dismissal is unfair.

In addition, the Claimant succeeded in the Section 15 Equality Act 2010 claim, as she was clearly treated unfavourably due to issues arising from her disability. Consequently, the tribunal found that the respondent failed to find reasonable adjustments for the Claimant, which were clearly accessible.