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Discriminatory Treatment Can Result in Costly Damage to Mental Health

Failing to take appropriate care when it comes to the mental health of employees can not only result in falling foul of employment law; it also comes with a risk of personal injury being inflicted. This was evidenced in an Employment Tribunal (ET) case brought by a woman whose mental health was broken down by the discriminatory treatment she endured from her employer.

The woman was employed by a barrister, variously as a virtual legal assistant, personal assistant and office manager, for a period of nine months. Before starting to work for the barrister, she made her aware of the PTSD, depression and anxiety she suffered from, and also informed her that she had fibromyalgia. She specified that, as a result of this disability, she could not work at weekends.

Despite this, after starting to work for the barrister as a personal assistant, the woman was expected to be available ‘at the drop of a hat’ and was told that if she was unable to work seven days per week then her role would be given to someone else. Evidence was also given of unkind things relating to her disability that had been said by her employer on a WhatsApp group chat.

The woman’s claim for disability discrimination was successful, after the ET found that the barrister’s insistence that she should be available to work at weekends, without ensuring at least two consecutive days off each week for rest and recuperation, was a failure to make reasonable adjustments, contrary to Section 21 of the Equality Act 2010.

It was further found that she had been subject to unfavourable treatment as a consequence of something arising from her disability, contrary to Section 15 of the Act. An element of harassment was also established, as a result of disparaging remarks made about the woman’s mental health – including the comments on the WhatsApp group. The woman was also successful in her claim for unlawful deduction of wages.

At a subsequent remedies hearing, the ET expressed that it was satisfied that the barrister’s discriminatory treatment and the resulting litigation had exacerbated the woman’s poor mental health and PTSD, leading to a recurrence of her symptoms. Her coping mechanisms for dealing with fibromyalgia had also broken down. The combined impact went beyond normal injury to feelings and had resulted in a personal injury to the woman.

The ET assessed the appropriate personal injury award to be in the sum of £90,000. This represented a substantial proportion of the woman’s overall award of £155,000, including interest.

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Published
15 February 2024
Last Updated
13 April 2024