Tribunal victory for woman accused of faking anxiety and depression

10 Aug 2018 By Lauren Brown

Employer who suggested credit controller might be chasing ‘substantial’ payout found guilty of victimisation

A woman who was accused by her manager of faking her anxiety and depression has won more than £8,000 for victimisation at an employment tribunal.

Miss M James’s employer, Mr Ali, told her counsellor she might be fabricating her condition in order to receive a “substantial” payout, the East London tribunal heard. 

James began work at medical recruitment agency Capital Care Services as a credit controller in October 2016. From March 2017, she was off work due to her ill health, and was subsequently diagnosed with symptoms of anxiety and depression. Employment Judge Brown noted that at that time James “found even simple tasks to be difficult.”

Between April and May 2017, James began seeing Mr Moody, a counsellor. James had given Ali permission to speak with Moody about a grievance she had raised at work, which she said had contributed significantly to her condition.

When James’s counsellor told her Ali had question the veracity of her condition, she suffered a “sustained and debilitating panic attack” and felt unable to breathe for 40 minutes. Moody helped her perform some breathing exercises. Afterwards, she cried “uncontrollably”, which triggered a further panic attack. 

The tribunal accepted James was still suffering from anxiety, depression and panic attacks at the time of the hearing. She had also begun experiencing night terrors and suicidal thoughts. She said Ali’s comments had aggravated her condition and that afterwards, she was unable to leave the house. She did not return to work.

Judge Brown noted: “She became so withdrawn and ill that she was confined to her bedroom for some weeks afterwards,” adding that James had needed several weeks of psychotherapy to come to terms with the comments. 

Moody confirmed that “when he telephoned [James] at her home after Mr Ali’s telephone call, on a number of occasions, [she] was in her bedroom and not elsewhere in the house.”

James told the tribunal she felt deeply insulted by Ali’s suggestion that she was a liar. The judge noted James was “visibly distressed” in the tribunal when recalling what her manager had said.

The judge added: “Mr Ali’s words had a profoundly exacerbating effect on the claimant’s feelings of depression and anxiety. [James] was a vulnerable person and the words were particularly wounding and detrimental to her.”

The ruling also found the circumstances of Ali’s comments made a “painful process” more acute for James: “They [the comments] were made pursuant to a grievance process in which [James] had been hoping to secure redress but, in fact, experienced the opposite when she became aware of Mr Ali’s reaction to her grievance.”

James claimed victimisation and was awarded £8,147 for injury to feelings. She did not succeed in an additional claim for loss of earnings, as she had already been unable to work before Ali’s comments.

The tribunal heard James now felt well enough to begin work again and had been offered a new job elsewhere. The tribunal and Capital Care Services granted James’s request for her former employer to provide her with a positive reference.

Andrew Willis, head of legal at CIPD HR-inform, said the case demonstrated that businesses needed to be particularly sensitive around cases involving mental ill-health. 

“They should also bear in mind that inappropriate comments can be seriously damaging for individuals in these situations and, as such, must ensure that managers are fully trained in people management and how to respond to this issue appropriately,” he added.

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