12 March 2024

Sensitive to sickness: return to work

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Oliver Tasker Partner & Head of Employment
Women in return to work interview

A recent Employment Tribunal case illustrates the dangers employers face if they don’t act sensitively when employees return to work following illness.

In Thomas v T&R Direct Insurance, the claimant had worked for the respondent for several years. She took a period of time off work due to mental health issues. On her return, her bosses spoke insensitively about her issues and made repeated comments about her eating habits – saying she would be ‘the size of a house’ if she carried on eating the way she was doing. She resigned and claimed constructive unfair dismissal and disability discrimination.

The tribunal concluded that, once she had been off with mental health problems, the respondent had a change in attitude towards her that was mainly because she had taken time off work as a result of her disability and as a result was seen by them as a less reliable and valuable member of staff. The tribunal found that she had been constructively dismissed and had suffered discrimination arising from disability and disability-related harassment. A remedy hearing is awaited.

Where employees take time away from work owing to conditions which may amount to a disability then it is of key importance that the employer is supportive on their return to work. Whilst it is obviously frustrating when a workplace is disrupted by employee absence, taking this frustration out on the employee is never the answer and is likely to lead, as it did in this case, to an adverse result in any flowing litigation.

Oliver Tasker, Wilkin Chapman LLP
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