After almost 25 years as a nurse with the NHS, it was found that Mr. J Horn was discriminated against on the grounds of disability by NHS Grampian, Aberdeen, Scotland an Employment Tribunal (ET) ruled.  

Mr. J Horn, a senior cancer care nurse, whom after experiencing stress at work because of staff shortages developed a depressive illness, which after a prolonged period of sick leave, was unfairly dismissed on health grounds.

The Employment Tribunal ruled that the Grampian Health Board failed to act as a ‘reasonable employer’ and made no considerations or adjustments based on Mr. Horn’s disability status and handled the entire process in an “insensitive and unreasonable” manner.

The Employment Tribunal heard that even after Mr. Horn’s department suffered a catalogue of staff shortages and changes leading to his depressive illness, he was not initially assigned to see a qualified occupational health professional as a reasonable employer should arrange. Mr. Horn was signed off on ‘long term sick’ in August 2016 but was still not referred to an occupational health professional, alternatively, he was assigned to see a ‘nurse manager’.

Following another period of absence, on his return to work in November 2017 Mr. Horn emailed his manager stating that “It isn’t working out for me…I think the outcome will be that I have to resign.”

On 17th November, Mr. Horn was again signed off work, this time for 42 days because of work-related stress. On 18th December, Mr. Horn received a letter (dated 14th December) stating that the meeting he had been invited to on 21st December was a formal meeting and termination of his contract was an option.

The meeting lasted only 10 minutes where Mr. Horn was told that he was to be dismissed on the grounds of ill health with nothing else discussed. Mr. Horn appealed the decision stating that he had not had enough time to prepare for the meeting and as he was dismissed without any further discussion and that the decision to do so was pre-meditated. His appeal, however, was dismissed by HR.

Caroline Wood, Director of HR Heroes says that it is imperative to follow a robust long term sick process to ensure that the company has done all that it can to aid an employee back to work after long periods of absence due to illness and before any dismissal.  If an employer doesn’t, then Mr. Horn’s case is an example of what can happen – which ultimately can be stressful, time-consuming and expensive for the employer.