Employee called a “whinger” wins £26,000

June 15, 2018
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The Department for Working Pensions (DWP) has been ordered to pay a disabled employee £26,000. What did bosses at the DWP do which enabled this employee to claim a sizable amount of compensation?

In April 2018, there were several interesting media reports about Barrie Caulcutt’s (C) success at a tribunal. C, who is employed by the DWP as a Jobcentre Plus benefits advisor, suffers from chronic asthma, anxiety and eczema. The DWP were aware of C’s conditions and the effect this has on him. C has never kept any of this hidden from them during his 35 years’ continuous employment.

Medical evidence

Prior to March 2014 C was moved from his back office-based finance role, to a customer facing role. This change meant that he had to deal with claimants who were often angry because their benefits were being reduced or stopped. C’s move was made despite him raising concerns about the impact this would have on his medical conditions and both his GP and the DWP ‘s occupational health advisor recommending that he should not be working in a frontline role.

Written warning

In March 2014, C was required to take part in a staff training seminar, which was held in a small room. This environment made C anxious and although he asked to be excused, he suffered a severe asthma attack. He was rushed to hospital for medical treatment and later stated “I thought I was going to die”. Following the incident, C took time of sick. On his return to work he was given a written warning on the basis that he had taken two and a half more sick days than he was allowed under DWP rules.

Labelled a whinger

C was also marked down as “could improve” and pressurised to move to work at another DWP office. C complained about the decision, stating that it was his employer’s choice of room than had caused him to become ill. It later emerged that an internal email sent from DWP manager to C’s line manager at the Jobcentre Plus, had said: “let him whinge like craphe doesn’t deserve us to be nice to him”.

Tribunal Claim

Unhappy about the treatment received from his employer, C claimed disability discrimination at the tribunal. It ruled that the DWP had failed to make reasonable adjustments for his disability and awarded him £26,000. At the time of publication, C remained employed by DWP. Although DWP should have considered reasonable adjustments to C’s job role, training environment and his sickness absence procedure, what’s notable about this case is the manager’s dismissive email and its tone.

Tip 1. All internal communications between managers are disclosable during tribunal proceedings. Personal comments and opinions may be taken into account and can easily cloud the tribunal’s view of an employer. Ensure you and your managers are aware of this fact.

 Tip 2. Disabled employees who take sickness absence because of their disability should not be penalised for any absence. Where an employee triggers your absence management policy based on a number of days off, it should exclude disability-related absences from the calculations.

 Tip 3. The DWP forced the employee to move to a job role against medical advice and penalised him for taking disability-related sickness absence. These are both unacceptable. Where you are aware that an employee is disabled, you must be mindful of their condition and make all necessary reasonable adjustments.