Support charity unfairly dismissed worker after failing to recognise her anxiety as a disability, tribunal rules

Blenheim CDP, which has since merged into the charity Humankind, has apologised for the distress caused

A support charity unfairly dismissed a former staff member after it failed to recognise an “anxiety state” as a disability, an employment tribunal has ruled.

Tribunal documents published this week show that Blenheim CDP, which provides support to people on a range of issues, unfairly dismissed offender recovery worker Miss E Okeke after she struggled with work-related stress, anxiety and depression.

The tribunal also upheld two claims of a failure to make reasonable adjustments for Okeke’s anxiety over a period of several years.

One complaint of direct disability discrimination also succeeded, as did one complaint of harassment related to her disability, because Okeke was told that her anxiety was a condition, not a disability, the tribunal ruled.

However, the tribunal rejected several other claims in areas including direct sex and race discrimination, victimisation and disability discrimination.

The tribunal documents show the charity conceded that Okeke had a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act by way of mental impairment, namely an “anxiety state”.

After Okeke’s employment was transferred to Blenheim from the charity Crime Reduction Initiatives (now called Change Grow Live) in 2013, she was retained on the same contractual terms and conditions.

She had been working at police stations while employed by CRI and continued to do so as an offender recovery worker, which required assessing offenders in police custody.

This changed in January 2015 when Blenheim, which has since merged with the support charity Humankind, issued a new contract of employment that included her existing general terms and conditions in relation to sick pay and hours of work.

But rather than being based at a particular police station, the claimant was based at either Highbury Corner Magistrates Court or a mental health trust called The Grove.

The tribunal heard that in March 2016 Okeke had suffered “some recent bereavements”, and was experiencing low mood, poor sleeping pattern and being prone to tearfulness.

She was prescribed medication and referred for counselling.

The tribunal documents show that Okeke’s work-related stress, anxiety and depression presented themselves in various ways over the next few years.

These included affecting her work and travel patterns, and miscommunications that, in some instances, led to grievances with colleagues.

Changes to what was expected of her role, including the location, contributed to making these conditions worse in ways Blenheim failed to recognise, the tribunal found.

Okeke eventually resigned in June 2018.

The tribunal documents said: ”A claimant may succeed in proving that they were dismissed if they resigned in response to a series of actions by the employer which cumulatively justified the employee’s leaving.

“If an employee succeeds in showing that the conduct that caused the resignation amounted to harassment contrary to the Equality Act, then the employee will also be able to show that the conduct amounted to a breach of trust and confidence.”

A Humankind spokesperson said the charity accepted the findings of the tribunal and was sorry for the distress the case had caused.

“We remain committed to supporting the wellbeing of our workforce, and fully accept that on this occasion we fell short,” the spokesperson said.

“This case relates to practice at Blenheim CDP from 2017/18, prior to our merger.

“The claimant brought a number of complaints, the majority of which were not upheld.

“While our processes at Humankind are different, there are always areas where we can learn and improve. We will carefully consider the findings of the tribunal and ensure that our practices continue to develop over time.”

A remedy hearing has been scheduled for 16 June to decide what compensation Okeke should receive.

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