An employment tribunal has awarded a woman £50,000 compensation after her former employers accused her of not doing ‘a single day’s work’ while she underwent treatment for breast cancer.
Eimear Coghlan, 34, was initially treated with “sympathy and concern” by her boss, Poonam Dhawan-Leach, chief executive of The Hideaways Club in Kensington, however their professional relationship struggled when Ms. Coghlan needed to go for regular medical appointments.
Whilst Ms. Coghlan was given flexible working arrangements during her illness, Mrs Dhawan-Leach claimed she had “not done a single day’s work” in three months since her diagnosis. Ms. Coghlan was told to produce letters from her doctors confirming she was well enough to work, and had to take at least half a day of sick leave, on reduced pay, if she had a medical appointment.
The PA eventually signed off with stress, claiming she “could not face” working with chief exec Poonam Dhawan-Leach. She later quit her job.
The London Central Employment Tribunal heard matters came to a head three days before a major op, when Leach emailed Eimear claiming she was “unfit to work”.
Judge David Pearl described Leach as “a stickler” for procedures and “went too far” in her approach and ruled that Ms. Coghlan had been the victim of unfavourable treatment due to her disability.
He ruled that Eimear’s medical letters “violated her dignity”, adding:
“This unwanted conduct related to her disability had the effect of creating a hostile, humiliating and offensive environment for her.”
Enrique Garcia is an employment law consultant with the ELAS Group. He explains:
“This case shows the importance of adherence to discrimination laws for all employers. Cancer, whatever type, is a disability and people who have been diagnosed with cancer are automatically protected from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010, including:
- Less favourable treatment than the employer gives or would give others without cancer
- Unfavourable treatment arising out of the disability
- A failure to make reasonable adjustments
- Harassment on the grounds of the cancer
“Reasonable adjustments can include flexible working around treatment, support in the workplace and relaxing the absence rules for the employee.
“In this case, the employer’s conduct amounted to unfavourable treatment and harassment arising out of the disability.
“This case emphasises why negative comments from employers towards employees should be avoided.
“Where there are concerns about an employee’s capability due to a long standing illness, appropriate action can be taken but it’s important to follow formal welfare and medical capability processes. These will generally explore what the employee is and is not capable of doing, will look at any medical evidence such as Occupational Health or GP reports and consider what adjustments can be put in place and/or any other roles that are available. If no solutions are found then dismissal can be considered, however this must be done properly to avoid claims of discrimination and unfair dismissal. Proper advice should be sought each step of the way.”