November 5, 2019

Nurse unlawfully discriminated against by NHS

After almost 25 years as a nurse with the NHS, 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, who after feeling stress at work because of staff shortages developed a depressive illness which, after a prolonged period on 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 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 do. 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’ as opposed to an occupational health professional. 

After having 3 consultations with the ‘nurse manager’ no further treatment was suggested or arranged. Mr. Horn continued to suffer from work-related stress and anxiety and began to seek treatment privately.

In May 2017, NHS Grampian and Mr. Horn started talking about a phased return to work and Mr. Horn eventually returned in September 2017. After an initially positive start, a complaint was lodged that detailed how Mr. Horn had taken paid work whilst on sick leave and also cited “inappropriate behaviour outside of work”. HR Investigated the complaint and found no wrong-doing however the process was incredibly stressful and distressing for Mr. Horn and put him back to “rock bottom again”.

After another period of leave, 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 has 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 that the decision to do so was pre-meditated. His appeal, however, was dismissed by HR.

The Employment Tribunal ruled that no “meaningful discussion” had taken place during the dismissal meeting and that NHS Grampian had discriminated against Mr horn on the grounds of disability.

The Employment Tribunal has given the parties four weeks to agree compensation or it will set a date for a formal hearing.

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