The Stroke Association has been told to pay almost £13,000 in damages to a woman who was dismissed after having a significant period on sick leave awaiting surgery.
According to an employment tribunal judgment released earlier this week, Lindsey Unsworth, an office worker at the charity from 30 October 2007 until 16 October 2015, was dismissed for reasons of capability due to health issues.
But the tribunal, which heard the case in Liverpool, ruled that her dismissal was discriminatory and ordered the charity to pay damages of £12,871.15.
Unsworth was off sick from 6 September 2012 after being diagnosed with a knee condition called chondromalacia patellae, which is considered a disabling condition that causes instability and pain, according to the judgment.
Unsworth had surgery on the condition in November 2015, the month after her dismissal, and had a recovery period of six to eight weeks.
The judgment says Unsworth was unaware of changes in absence-management practices and procedures at the charity during her time on sick leave, and the policies in place for the first two years of her sick leave were "somewhat relaxed".
It says she was led by the charity to believe that the reasons for her continued absence were accepted by the charity, "subject to review in due course".
Unsworth’s dismissal was first raised in an occupational health report on 25 September 2014. In a meeting with a human resources manager and her line manager on 25 November 2014, Unsworth said that a return to work would see her removed from the urgent list for surgery and thus cause significant delays to her recovery.
At a further meeting on 1 July 2015, Unsworth gave an estimated return to work of March 2016 to allow for two sequential operations on both knees. She warned the charity she could not return to work until after the second operation had taken place.
A further occupational health report on 7 September 2015 again raised the possibility of dismissal, but also made recommendations for adjustments to allow Unsworth to return to work or to work from home.
At a meeting on 16 October 2015, Unsworth explained why working from home would be unfeasible. She said she had stated in previous meetings that she would return as long as her place on the surgery waiting list was not jeopardised and expressed a desire to return to work.
At the 16 October meeting, the charity informed Unsworth that she would be dismissed.
Unsworth did not submit an appeal against her dismissal to the charity within a set deadline, but told the charity she would appeal "in due course", the judgment says.
The tribunal concluded that the charity failed to make reasonable adjustments to allow Unsworth’s return to work and failed to effect some of the suggestions made by Unsworth.
Chris Rennison, director of people and organisational development at the Stroke Association, said: "We accept the outcome of the tribunal and regret any distress felt by Mrs Unsworth during this process.
"We strive for the highest standards when developing HR policy and supporting our staff. The Stroke Association is a well-respected employer and issues of these kinds are very rare.
"We were disappointed with the outcome of this tribunal, but the Stroke Association took the decision that it was not in the charity’s best interests to make an appeal. We wish Mrs Unsworth well for the future."
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