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Retail worker wins tribunal after mental illness was overlooked

24 Oct 2017 By PM Editorial

Case is a reminder for employers to account for medical conditions, say legal experts

Many employers used World Mental Health Day in October to emphasise that it’s important to speak out about mental health issues. But it was also a reminder that many conditions remain unseen, which can prove problematic if employees run into trouble.

The Central London Employment Tribunal recently heard the case of Ali Sadeghi, who worked for clothes and homeware chain TK Maxx and became general manager of its High Street Kensington store in the capital last year. However, shortly after he gained this promotion, allegations emerged that he had behaved inappropriately towards colleagues.

Sadeghi told his superiors that he suffered from depression and anxiety, which negatively affected his sleep and mood, and sometimes made him angry. He mentioned he was in therapy and taking medication for his condition.

In August 2016, there was an incident with a customer where Sadeghi claimed he had been abused and sworn at because he could not give a refund on a pair of trainers. The customer pulled out a phone to record the incident and a cleaner managed to snatch it away and throw it to Sadeghi. The police were called and the customer was escorted off the premises.

The customer claimed he had been punched, and management reviewed CCTV footage. Sadeghi was called to a disciplinary hearing and was then dismissed for gross misconduct. He responded with a claim for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination.

The tribunal upheld all of his claims, finding it unlikely that TK Maxx had not – as it claimed – realised his anxiety was an ongoing illness, and that the company had gone ahead with its disciplinary procedure without first obtaining a proper medical opinion.

Fairness and reasonableness played a key role in the tribunal’s decision to uphold Sadeghi’s claim of unfair dismissal, explained Lydia Christie, senior associate at law firm Howard Kennedy.

“There is a helpful analysis in the judgment of where employers can trip up in this type of investigation, even where misconduct is found to have occurred,” she said. “The tribunal looked at whether the employer had carried out as much investigation as was reasonable in the circumstances and decided that it had not, for example, provided statements during the investigation. The employer had also failed to take account of Sadeghi’s medical condition as part of the investigation and to get a medical opinion on how it might have affected his behaviour.

“There was also concern following an email exchange that suggested his dismissal may have been a pre-determined outcome.

“While the tribunal accepted the employer had genuinely believed the employee’s conduct amounted to gross misconduct, the tribunal found that dismissal did not fall within the range of reasonable responses open to a reasonable employer in this particular case, as the employer had failed to take account of relevant mitigating factors.”

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