Bank discriminated against diabetic manager sacked after locking customer in branch

Tribunal rules employee’s ‘uncontrolled’ condition affected his ability to carry out proper security checks

Bank discriminated against diabetic manager sacked after locking customer in branch

A bank manager was discriminated against when his employer unfairly dismissed him for failing to undertake proper checks, something he attributed to the side effects of his ‘uncontrolled’ diabetes.

A London employment tribunal (ET) ruled that HBOS, which previously ran the Halifax building society business and is now part of Lloyds Banking Group, unfairly and wrongfully dismissed Mr B Kuppala after his diabetes inhibited his ability to follow the proper security and closing procedures at his branch. Kuppala was found to have left keys in the door on multiple occasions, and once locked a customer in after closing time.

The tribunal concluded that if HBOS had obtained occupational health advice, it would have been told Kuppala was disabled and that “the disability was uncontrolled and likely to have had an effect on his concentration and his tiredness”.

Kuppala worked for HBOS from January 2004 until his dismissal in July 2018.

In August 2017, while employed as a bank manager at the Oxford Circus branch of Halifax in central London, Kuppala was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. 

In a report prepared for the tribunal, Kuppala’s GP explained that the effects of diabetes are worsened by stress, poor diet and irregular breaks. The GP added that it was important for a diabetic to avoid drops and spikes in blood glucose levels and that Kuppala’s diabetes had deteriorated because of work-related stress, poor upkeep of diet and the demands of his job.

Kuppala told the tribunal that he was made aware that his job was at risk during a reorganisation exercise in 2018. He said the closure of three nearby branches meant footfall at his branch significantly increased and, as a result, Kuppala said he was unable to take breaks because of the lack of staff at his branch, which resulted in him not controlling his diabetes. 

He told the tribunal he felt shaky, weak, hungry, lethargic and experienced confusion when he was not controlling his diabetes.  

The tribunal concluded that those symptoms amounted to a “more than minor adverse effect” on Kuppala’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, such as attending work and concentrating.

At the end of March 2018, Kuppala was told his assistant manager would be moved to another branch, which he said put more pressure on him and left him unable to take lunch breaks. 

He was also informally told on 27 April that he had not been given a role in the new staff structure following the reorganisation. 

On 10 May, a customer was inadvertently locked in the bank for three hours after it closed at 5pm. James Whittaker, control assessment manager, was appointed to investigate the incident, and he met with Kuppala for an interview on 24 May.

In the meeting, Kuppala told Whittaker he had been diagnosed as diabetic and needed to eat regularly, but that he had to skip lunches because there had not been enough staff to support the branch. 

Kuppala told Whittaker that on the day of the incident he had to leave the branch at 5pm sharp to attend an emergency appointment, so was unable to complete his usual checks to ensure all customers had left before closing. Kuppala added that he noticed that a customer had come in and was talking to another member of staff as he was preparing to lock up, so he passed the keys on to colleagues so he could leave on time. 

However, images from the CCTV of that day showed Kuppala had not handed the keys to a colleague but had in fact left a set of keys in the door unattended. Whittaker also provided CCTV evidence of two other incidents where Kuppala had left keys in the door.

Kuppala acknowledge he may have got into a “bad habit” of leaving keys hanging in the front door. 

Whittaker produced an investigation report in which he said Kuppala had breached HBOS’s security policies, and recommended that formal action be taken for gross misconduct. 

Kuppala attended a disciplinary hearing on 22 June and was told that, if the charges were upheld, he could be dismissed with or without notice. He apologised and said he now realised that at 4-5pm he was low on sugar, which affected his concentration.

Kuppala was dismissed by letter on 2 July after the hearing found he had shown “serious disregard for well-documented and established procedures, despite recently completing training that covered exit procedures”. 

He appealed the decision, but this appeal was dismissed on 13 September. 

He brought claims of unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal and disability discrimination against HBOS on 8 February 2019. 

The London Central ET ruled in favour of Kuppala, but said there was still a “10 per cent” likelihood HBOS would have dismissed him following a fair procedure that had taken into account his diabetes. The ET also found Kuppala’s actions had contributed to his dismissal “in the order of 60 per cent” so compensation for unfair dismissal would be reduced accordingly. 

The ET ordered HBOS to pay Kuppala £49,457 for unfair dismissal, discriminatory dismissal and notice pay for wrongful dismissal.

Kate Palmer, associate director of advice for Peninsula UK, said the case highlights why it is essential for employers to take disclosures of a disability into account during a disciplinary procedure. 

“Despite the fact that the employee had committed serious forms of misconduct and would likely have faced a sanction for this, the failure of the organisation to further investigate his claims that a disability was impacting upon his performance ultimately meant they were found to have discriminated against him,” Palmer said. 

She added that HR must be prepared to evaluate whether an underlying disability or illness is a contributing factor to the behaviour of an employee and be prepared to make further enquiries, such as referring the employee to occupational health.

HBOS and Kuppala have been contacted for comment.