Cancer sufferer awarded £47,000 in discrimination case

A woman who claimed she was subjected to discrimination and harassment while undergoing treatment for cancer has been awarded more than £47,700 compensation.

Eimear Coughlan worked for the Hideaways Club (UK) Ltd, a property investment firm based in London. She was the office manager and personal assistant to the chief executive, Poonam Dhawan-Leach.

Problems arose after she had to undergo surgery and intensive chemotherapy after developing an aggressive form of breast cancer.

She said Ms Leach treated her “sympathetically and with natural concern” at first, allowing her to work flexibly around her treatment schedule and to work from home if she felt particularly unwell.

However, the attitude changed over the following few months. The concession of flexible working was withdrawn and she was told she would have to take sick leave for at least half a day on reduced pay if she had to attend a medical appointment, even if it was only for an hour.

Ms Leach contacted the firm’s HR department for advice, saying Ms Coughlan “had not done a single day’s work” in the last three months and the working arrangement was not sustainable.

Three days before Ms Coughlan was due to undergo major surgery, she received an email accusing her being unfit to work yet refusing to take sick leave.

The Hideaways club disputed the claims and said that many of their decisions were made out of concern for Ms Coughlan.

The Employment Tribunal dismissed Ms Coughlan’s claims of constructive dismissal and victimisation, but held that she had been subjected to discrimination and harassment.

Judge David Pearl said some of the firm’s actions like asking her to provide medical letters “violated her dignity” and it had been irrational to expect her to take half a day’s sick leave to attend a medical appointment.

He added that removing the flexible working arrangement was “plainly unfavourable treatment” despite Ms Leach claiming it was for Ms Coughlan’s benefit.

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