Mental health sufferer awarded £11,000 in discrimination case
A woman who suffered with mental health problems has been awarded more than £11,000 compensation after her employer failed to deal properly with her request to work fewer hours.
Marie-Claire McLaughlin worked for the Charles Hurst car firm when she began to suffer from depression and panic attacks. She asked for reduced hours but her request took 14 months to process.
The delay added to her anxiety and exacerbated her condition.
The Employment Tribunal found that her request had not been “considered in an appropriate manner".
The judge said: "It was consistently dealt with as an application for flexible working, with an emphasis on the needs of the business. There was little or no focus on the needs of the claimant (Ms McLaughlin)."
"Had the employer focused correctly on the concept of reasonable adjustments under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and taken a proactive approach to the matter, all members of the tribunal are satisfied that the claimant would have had the benefit of the reduced hours she sought at an earlier stage."
The tribunal ruled that she had been discriminated against because of her disability and awarded her £11,840.
Charles Hurst said it fully accepted the ruling. In a statement it said: "Charles Hurst Group vehemently opposes all forms of unlawful or unfair discrimination.
"The tribunal also ruled, unanimously, that neither did the company victimise nor harass the claimant. We fully accept, however, the tribunal's one ruling that the length of time which was taken to implement a reduction in working hours was too long and we deeply regret any distress this caused."
Dr Michael Wardlow, of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, said: "There is a need for employers to be more pro-active in addressing issues around mental health.
"Proper - and timely - management of this issue should be an important focus for all employers.
"The tribunal noted that, when the adjustments were put in place, Ms McLaughlin found it much easier to cope with her employment. She had little or no absence from work and she found it much easier to get the job done.
"This highlights the fact that reasonable adjustments, while required by legislation to benefit people with disabilities, can also benefit business through outcomes such as improved attendance and increased productivity."
Please contact Robert Bedford if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law.