HR Newsroom

The latest updates from the world of Human Resources.

Employers Beware – Workplace Discrimination Can be Extremely Costly

Unlawful Conduct by Employer Results in Record Disability Award

Andrew Collier
Andrew Collier HR Adviser
A formal council worker has been awarded £4.6m in compensation for disability discrimination and harassment while on sick leave with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

This is one of the largest awards ever made by an Employment Tribunal and serves as a
warning to employers to avoid discriminatory conduct.

Rachael Wright-Turner was dismissed from her job as Director of Public Service Reform at Hammersmith & Fulham Council after taking sick leave, due to suffering PTSD symptoms following previous work she had done elsewhere in relation to the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire.

Harrowing YouTube Footage

Ms Wright-Turner had made the council aware of both her PTSD and ADHD diagnoses on the first day of her employment. However, later that day her line manager discussed the details of a harrowing YouTube video of the Grenfell Fire. Ms Wright-Turner became emotionally distressed.

Concerns were raised about Ms Wright-Turner’s performance several months later and she was accused of not disclosing her ADHD during the recruitment process. That night, when out with colleagues at a local pub, she suffered a severe panic attack and was admitted to A & E.

She was signed off work by her GP and her probation period was extended.

Ms Wright-Turner was subsequently dismissed from her £125,000 a year position. A letter from the council stated that they did not think she would be able to successfully complete her probation period.

Deliberately Misled

The Employment Tribunal case took five years between dismissal and final judgement and concluded that she had been harassed and discriminated against.

The Tribunal found that the Council had full knowledge of Ms Wright-Turner’s disabilities and that it had subjected her to significant detriments because of these.

It was found that the council deliberately misled the Employment Tribunal about the date of the probation extension. It also concluded that senior staff had conspired to doctor her dismissal letter, so it appeared to have been signed off before Ms Wright-Turner launched a grievance process.

Attempt to Evade Accountability

The Tribunal Judge noted the council’s deliberate omission of sickness absence from dismissal documents as a clear attempt to evade accountability. The decision to extend probation was ruled unfavourable treatment, related to the claimant’s disability-related sickness absence. There was no warning that the claimant was at risk of dismissal, no opportunity to make representations before this decision was taken, and no opportunity to appeal was given.

The Tribunal took the view that Ms Wright-Turner would never work again due to her treatment. The size of the £4.6m award took this into account, with substantial compensation included for lost pension and future earnings up to retirement age.

Hammersmith & Fulham Council believe the award is “excessive” and will be looking to appeal.

Takeaway For Employers

This case highlights issues around workplace discrimination and harassment, particularly around mental health issues, and shows how important it is to mitigate risk. 

• Whilst it is rather obvious that it is against the law for employers to discriminate against an employee because of a disability, when an employer is terminating employment (irrespective of how short the employee’s service is) employers must always take care to ensure that the termination could not be said to be directly or indirectly discriminatory.

• The council failed to follow the ACAS code and their own Probation and Sickness Absence policies.  Employers need to understand and follow their policies.

• When recruiting, employers are permitted to make limited enquiries about a candidate’s health or disability within limited reasons.

• Dismissals need to be well thought through, ensuring all processes are followed to ensure full compliance with current employment legislation and internal company policies. Dismissal letters are often the most important part of any Employment Tribunal case – employers should draft them on the expectation that they are going to be read by a Judge and in a public forum. 

• Managers should receive comprehensive training, refreshed and updated regularly, so they’re compliant with anti-discrimination laws and can cultivate an inclusive work environment.

Make Compliance Easier

When it comes to workplace issues such as a disciplinary, grievance or dismissal, it’s essential to make sure your documents are up to date.

WorkSmarter’s Employment Document Library contains over 100 fully compliant HR documents, ready for every scenario. Continuously updated, we ensure that the templates you use are always fit for purpose.   

WorkSmarter provides a wide range of HR tools to help companies grow and manage their staff. Our upgraded plans unlock access to many more HR services, ready to help you grow your business.

Book a demo today.

Photo by Jeremy McGilvrey via Unsplash

Get Started

Ready to WorkSmarter?

Join 8,000+ companies who are working smarter than ever before.

I'm ready, let's go

Easy Setup

Setup is really simple, and only takes a few minutes. You'll be guided through the process, step-by-step — and in no time at all you'll have your first employee added to your account.

We're Here to Help

If you need any assistance or have any questions, our friendly team will be happy to assist. Our comprehensive Help Centre is available too, with guides to all aspects of the platform.

Loved By Thousands of SMEs

WorkSmarter is loved by SMEs around the world. We're constantly innovating and releasing new features, with the aim of creating a delightful experience for users. Join thousands of other modern companies using WorkSmarter to grow their businesses.

Lots More Features Available

WorkSmarter provides a wide range of HR tools to help companies grow and manage their staff. Our upgraded plans unlock access to many more HR services, ready to help you grow your business.

Get started with WorkSmarter

Get Started in 60 Seconds

Register now, and you'll be up and running in no time.
Just fill out the fields below, and we'll set up your account.