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Case Studies

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Unwelcome impact of disciplinary process on the road to recovery

Published 01 December 2021

Ill health can have a disastrous impact on an employee’s career if an employer fails in its duty of care.

Sales worker Noreen suffered serious back and leg injuries when she was a passenger in a car involved in a serious road traffic accident.

The injuries restricted her mobility and made it uncomfortable standing for long periods of time on the shop floor at the large home furnishings store where she worked.

Noreen continued to struggle with the impact of her injuries well over a year after the accident. Her medical treatment was ongoing.

The sum of the support Noreen received from her employer was being advised to take a break whenever she needed it.  She did so, but it made little difference.

Noreen asked for a transfer to customer services, which was mainly a deskbound role. Her manager said he would deal with the request, but repeatedly failed to do so.

Frustrated Noreen went over his head and contacted head office to directly request a transfer.

When Noreen, who had worked for the company for three years, got in touch with the Castle Associates Employee Support Centre, she explained what happened next.

When her manager found out what she had done he gave her a dressing down in his office.

It led to a fiery disagreement, which got so heated a female member of staff entered the manager’s office to intervene. She later comforted a tearful and distressed Noreen

The incident led to Noreen being suspended from work for being rude and aggressive.

When Noreen spoke to our representative she admitted she gave as good as she got, but said she was not entirely to blame.

Noreen was worried she would lose her job. The disciplinary hearing invite warned dismissal was a potential outcome.

In preparation for the hearing our representative discussed the case at length with Noreen.

In doing so, he learned she had been diagnosed with a depressive disorder and anxiety following the accident.

As Noreen had suffered with it for over 12 months, it could be considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010.

A disabled person is defined as having a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

The employer was not aware Noreen suffered with a depressive disorder, because she had not disclosed it.

Regarding the disciplinary case, what happened, what was said in the office, and who was to blame, was a case of Noreen’s word against that of her manager, as there were no other witnesses.

However, our representative believed the worker who comforted Noreen afterwards could provide helpful evidence on the impact the incident had on Noreen.

He requested she attend the disciplinary hearing in accordance with section 12 of the ACAS Code of Practice.

At the disciplinary hearing the witness provided evidence of the considerable distress Noreen was in at the time.

Our representative spoke about Noreen’s mental health. This included explaining how it would inevitably impair her ability to deal with stressful situations, the frustrations of having her transfer request repeatedly ignored, struggles with her physical health and the incident with the manager.

He warned that punishing her for a matter that can be considered to be directly related to her mental health, which can be considered a disability, could amount to discrimination.

Our representative said Noreen was willing to attend an occupational health assessment to help the company to gain an understanding of her mental health and impact of it.

He conveyed Noreen’s remorse for what occurred, but strongly maintained as there were no independent witnesses to corroborate what happened, and important mitigation in the case, it would be grossly unfair to sanction Noreen.

He maintained she should be cleared of any wrongdoing and allowed her transfer as a reasonable adjustment.

Noreen was referred to occupational health before a disciplinary outcome was reached. She was later cleared of the allegation and got her transfer to customer services.

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