Case illustrates dangers to employers of mishandling disciplinary matters

5th January 2017

Case illustrates dangers to employers of mishandling disciplinary matters

Understanding employment law is a key responsibility for any organisation. Those that fail to do so leave themselves exposed to significant risk if relations break down.

Employees who are unlawfully treated in the workplace can suffer mental illness as a result – and Employment Tribunals (ETs) have broad powers to ensure that they are properly compensated.

In one recent case, a veteran care worker who was plunged into depression before being unfairly dismissed won substantial damages.

The woman had worked for a local authority for 40 years but was suspended after allegations were made about her method of working. She suffered depression as a result and spent a long time on sick leave.

She was not kept properly informed of the progress of prolonged disciplinary proceedings, nor that their focus had been shifted from her conduct to her capacity to do her job. She denied that she would never be fit enough to return to work but was ultimately dismissed.

After she lodged a complaint, an ET found that she had been unfairly dismissed and had suffered disability discrimination in respect of her depression.

Given the gravity of the initial allegations, it accepted that her employer had had no option but to suspend her. However, it went on to rule that her dismissal was related to her disability and was not a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

The ET held that while it had not been unlawful to suspend the woman, the way in which the council had conducted the suspension meeting amounted to unlawful disability discrimination because it had not explained matters more carefully and slowly.

As a result of the woman’s dyslexia, she did not understand what was happening to her at the meeting and panicked, because she thought she was losing her job.

The ET awarded the woman £15,000 for injury to her feelings, £10,000 for personal injury and a further sum for future loss of earnings.

She was awarded compensation for personal injury because if the suspension had been communicated in a non-discriminatory manner, depression might not have been triggered.

How can our Employment Law Solicitors help?

Employers, more than ever before, need sound and clear employment law advice to help them to protect their employees when things are going well and to protect themselves when relations break down.

When grievances and disputes with staff happen they take priority, regardless of the distraction this may cause you. If you don’t handle them correctly, there’s a real risk that you will end up in the Employment Tribunal.

Our specialist Suffolk solicitors, based in Ipswich, Melton, Hadleigh, Felixstowe and Woodbridge, act for businesses large and small in Suffolk, Essex and further afield.

To find out more about how we can help you, contact us on 01473 298126.

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