By Joanne Stronach Head of Employment & HR
A teaching assistant was discriminated against by her employer, who did not take the necessary steps to allow her to work in comfort with her disability.
That was the decision of the Employment Tribunal in a case involving an assistant who worked at Aycliffe Village Primary School in County Durham from February 2006.
Mrs S Clifford suffered with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. In 2015, her health began to decline. She would leave work “exhausted and required a couple of hours sleep to recuperate”.
She asked the headmaster, Mr Gargen, if she could be moved from the reception class, where the “cacophony of noise and constant grabbing” was causing her to struggle.
An occupational health report recommended she be given duties that could be performed both sitting or standing, that her shifts should be concentrated to mornings and at the early stages of the week to allow her good time to recover physically.
After a period off work with stress, Clifford was told by Gargen that she would have to return to the reception class. When she challenged the decision, Gargen allegedly told her: “I can do whatever I like.”
Another dispute over Clifford’s duties led to Gargen telling her: “We are all under pressure and working hard” and that if she did not like it: “There’s the door.”
Clifford took more time off work sick, and when she phoned to arrange her return date, she was told not to come back until her condition had subsided. She explained that she was disabled, and her condition would not subside. She said Gargen then told her he “did not ever want her back”.
Clifford raised a formal grievance and was dismissed in the following months.
She took legal action and the judge ruled in her favour. The tribunal was satisfied that Gargen’s conduct towards Clifford meant she was subjected to various acts of unlawful discriminatory conduct that breached the Equality Act 2010.
A remedy hearing will be scheduled to decide the level of compensation that should be awarded.
The case highlights the importance of having effective harassment reporting procedures in place, particularly when the head of the organisation is the person being accused of wrongdoing.
If you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law please contact Joanne Stronach on 01228 516 666 or email her here.