November and December’s top five employment law cases

People Management runs through the most-read tribunals of the last two months – from disability discrimination to racially charged WhatsApp messages

1. Accounts assistant berated ‘like a child’ in front of office was constructively unfairly dismissed

An accounts assistant who was led to the middle of an open plan office and “berated” in front of his colleagues for several minutes was constructively unfairly dismissed, the London Central Employment Tribunal ruled.

It found Liam Vaughan was subjected to “significant incidents of bullying” from management during his employment at Talbot Underwriting Services, concluding that the conduct of his employer, which did not offer any wellbeing support despite being aware of his treatment, was likely to “destroy or seriously damage the relationship of trust and confidence”.

2. Disabled fire station manager dismissed for ‘unacceptable’ attendance was discriminated against

A fire station manager dismissed because of his “unacceptable” record of attendance, which was linked to his disability, was discriminated against, the East London Tribunal ruled.

Mr A Hurle, who worked as a station manager for the London Fire Brigade (LFB) from 2 January 2019 until his dismissal on 24 October 2019, was discriminated against after he was subjected to a disciplinary procedure and ultimately dismissed for reasons linked to his mental health issues, the tribunal found. The judge said it was “completely inappropriate” to describe Hurle’s absence from work as “an offence”.

An LFB spokesperson said the organisation acknowledged the outcome of the tribunal. “We are committed to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of our staff and take our obligations under the Equality Act very seriously,” they said.

3. Worker asked if she had Alzheimer’s by manager wins age discrimination case

A tribunal found that Mrs M Crompton, who worked for Eden Private Staff from March 2018 until her dismissal in June 2019, was the victim of age discrimination after her manager made comments implying that her memory was “defective” because of her age and that she had Alzheimer’s that was linked to her poor performance.

The tribunal found the Alzheimer’s remarks were an act of direct discrimination because they would not have been made to a search consultant materially younger than Crompton. The judge added that, while the manager who made the comments “almost certainly saw her remarks as no more than office banter”, they still had the effect of violating Crompton’s dignity.

However, the tribunal ruled that her dismissal was because of her performance and was not connected to her age.

In a statement to People Management, Eden Private Staff said: “Our focus on internal training, rules and procedures has been sharpened to ensure nothing similar to this will happen in the future.  We regret that a member of our staff made an unfortunately phrased remark about forgetfulness intending it to be light-hearted and with no intent to offend.”

4. Pregnant worker told to resign after time off because of complications wins discrimination case

A customer service assistant who was told by her boss she should resign when complications with her pregnancy caused her to take time off work has won a claim for discrimination.

The East London Tribunal ruled that Mrs N Agarwal was treated unfairly by her employer, St John Freight System UK, after her boss told her she should resign because of her pregnancy and illness as a result of pregnancy. Additionally, the tribunal found the freight company had discriminated against Agarwal after changing her hours and work location when she sought to return from a period of pregnancy-related absence.

The judge said there was no evidence that St John Freight System intended to take any steps to change Agarwal’s working arrangements until she was off sick for a pregnancy-related reason.

5. Worker who found racially charged messages in work WhatsApp group was harassed

An operations clerk was the victim of harassment because of her sex, race and religious belief after finding explicit messages in a WhatsApp group used by her co-workers, the Watford Employment Tribunal ruled.

It said the contents of a group WhatsApp conversation used by employees of Deltec International Courier constituted harassment because it was unwanted conduct that had the effect of violating the dignity of Ms M Abdi, and found the comments created an “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive environment” for her.

Abdi, who is a black woman of Somali origin, came across the group when, in the course of her duties, she used a colleague’s details to log into her computer. A number of offensive comments had been made, including the term “f***ing immigrants”, and members of the group had also asked what “her” problem was and for someone to “shut this terrorist up” before they “rip her headscarf off”.