Social worker was asked ‘how long would this disabled thing go on’
A social worker has won her discrimination claim after a drawn-out dispute with her employers in which she was asked, “how long would this disabled thing go on”.
Patricia Murphy worked for Northumberland County Council from 1999. She suffered a foot injury in 2014 and lost some mobility.
A series of complaints led to her being suspended in 2015. She was given a written warning and demoted from her role as team leader.
She took much of the following year off sick to have an operation. During this time, an occupational health report was carried out and found that Murphy was “not disabled” but could benefit from a footrest under her desk.
Murphy attended a meeting with her line manager Karen MacDonald and HR advisor Amanda Atkinson. She was told that she would not be re-instated to her role as team leader. She explained that she could return to work but not take on duties which required too much mobility.
The tribunal heard that the relationship between Murphy and MacDonald and Atkinson was already strained at this stage.
Murphy returned to work on a phased basis, but again needed to take several months off sick due to her injury. She was told there would be a formal investigation as per the council’s absence management policy (AMP), a formal procedure to consider adjustments for a disabled employee.
A meeting between Murphy, MacDonald and Atkinson was held where another phased return to work was discussed.
The rocky relationship continued and at a further meeting MacDonald asked Murphy how long “this disabled thing” would go on.
Eventually Murphy was told she would be dismissed from her role, as that was the way to “open the door to redeployment opportunities” within the council.
Murphy brought claims of disability discrimination, and the Employment Tribunal ruled in her favour.
Judge Buchanan, speaking of the numerous meetings held, said: “The effect was to violate her dignity or at least to create an intimidating and hostile environment.”
The level of compensation was set to be decided at a separate hearing.
Please contact Sorcha Monaghan if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article, or any aspect of employment law.