An employment tribunal in Norwich has ruled against the Department for Work and Pensions in finding that they discriminated against a disabled employee, who was unfairly dismissed.
Isabella Valentine joined the DWP as part of a back-to-work scheme as an apprentice and made them aware from the outset that she used antidepressants and migraine blockers, but that they did not affect her on a day-to-day basis as part of her health declaration.
However, she was dismissed less than two months into the year-long programme which is designed to help those in long-term unemployment who are struggling to find work.
Valentine took a day off work won 11 October after suffering a migraine and an allergic reaction to her medication, with the employment judge pointing out that it would have been “prudent” to refer her to occupational health at this point.
However, after a further three-day absence due to her migraines, the DWP’s absence management procedure was triggered, as their policy for workers who are still within their probation period are liable to receive a written warning after four or more sick days, and face dismissal if they take more sick days thereafter.
However, the same policy states that absences related to disability were “not to be counted in the trigger days” and that managers “should take into account special circumstances” when deciding if it is appropriate to give the employee a warning when their disability has triggered the absence.
Upon returning to work on November 7 Valentine was called for an attendance meeting, where she explained that her migraines were “regular though unpredictable,” and couldn’t always be caught with medication. Employment judge Postle stated that it was “frankly perverse” that Valentine was told at this point that she would not be referred to occupational health if she was able to get through her probation period.
After a further period of absence due to her migraines beginning 9 November, it was decided that Valentine should be dismissed, and she received a letter upon her return on 14 November asking her to attend a meeting with the DWP centre manager. She received a dismissal letter on 28 November, and her appeal to reverse the decision was unsuccessful.
The judge ruled that this constituted “unfavourable treatment” due to Valentine’s disability and that the DWP failed to make reasonable adjustments for her.
In a statement to People Management, a DWP spokesperson said: “Our general approach is a supportive one – we provide employees with free access to counselling, health advice, physiotherapy and workplace adjustments to manage absences, and we do not dismiss staff without proper consideration and taking professional advice.”Get your copy of UNITE Magazine