Citizens Advice bureau must pay ex-employee almost £24,000

Watford Employment Tribunal ruled that Citizens Advice Haringey unfairly dismissed Vass Charalambous in 2016 after she suffered a number or medical conditions

A Citizens Advice bureau in north London has been ordered to pay almost £24,000 to a disabled former employee who a tribunal found to have been unfairly dismissed.

Citizens Advice Haringey dismissed Vass Charalambous in 2016 after she suffered a spate of severe medical conditions that affected her wrist, shoulder and spine and caused depression.

Charalambous had worked for the bureau since 2002 after previously serving as a volunteer.

By 2016 she was employed as a community advice worker, which involved outreach duties and travelling to the bureau's offices in Tottenham and Turnpike Lane.

Her medical problems, which the charity accepted qualified her as disabled, affected her ability to travel and forced her to take time off.

According to documents published by Watford Employment Tribunal this week, Charalambous was dismissed after a medical capability meeting.

"The claimant said a couple of times that she could not do the outreach work, but also made it clear that she wanted to return with adjustments," the documents say.

Charalambous had been retained earlier in 2016 after redundancies had reduced the bureau's workforce from 28 to 16. The three-person tribunal panel decided after a four-day hearing in November that she "was discriminated against when she was treated unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of her disability".

It ruled that the bureau failed in its duty to make reasonable adjustments and was guilty of indirect disability discrimination and unfair dismissal. However, it rejected a claim of direct disability discrimination.

The tribunal ordered the charity to pay Charalambous £16,623 for injury to feelings, £6,706 for unfair dismissal and £500 for loss of statutory rights.

A further hearing is due to take place in Watford on 3 April to decide on a possible uplift to the sum because of issues such as a loss of pension payments.

The documents say the claimant had been dismissed because of ill health.

"The respondent did not act reasonably in dismissing this employee," the judgment says. "She had long service and had carried out several roles, later with some adjustments, which, on the evidence before us, had caused the respondent no difficulties.

"There was some evidence about some difficulties that sickness absence can cause, but this was not put to the claimant and we had evidence that the respondent had managed other sickness absence difficulties.

"Even if this dismissal had not been discriminatory, we would have been bound to find that it was an unfair dismissal."

A spokesman for the bureau, whose income for the year ending 31 March 2017 was £1.2m, down from £1.8m in 2014, said: "We fully accept the decision of the employment tribunal.

"We followed to the letter what we believed at the time was the best practice guidance from a third party.

"We are now looking at our policies and procedures to ensure this does not happen again."

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