Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs Dundee call centre has been severely criticised for the second time in a fortnight by an employment tribunal after sacking another disabled employee.
The tribunal awarded Ms Sara Pryde of Broughty Ferry Road more than £11,570 after ruling she had been discriminated against by HMRC bosses, who claimed she was not disabled when they dismissed her in December.
HMRC had relied on an opinion by disability assessors Capita, who had ruled her condition was not covered by the equality act, despite the fact she had had a recurring condition for four years.
The government agency’s decision maker, Fraser Hamilton, had decided to sack Ms Pryde despite still awaiting clarification on her condition from Capita and despite a grievance she had raised not having been heard, the tribunal ruled.
In their unanimous judgment, the tribunal stated: “The respondents’ position was that at the time the alleged discrimination took place they were not aware and could not reasonably have been expected to know that the claimant was disabled in terms of the act.”
It went on: “The tribunal did not accept this. The fact of the matter is that the respondents had before them all the information they needed in order to determine that the claimant was disabled.”
It was noted that evidence had been heard regarding the issue in a pre-hearing review and accordingly the panel “had no hesitation in finding that the claimant was disabled on that basis.
“The essential point is that the respondents chose how they would deal with the issue of assessing whether or not an employee was disabled in terms of the act.
“They chose to use Capita and Capita chose to go about things the way in which they did. Capita came up with the wrong answer. That is something which is entirely the responsibility of the respondents.”
The tribunal heard Ms Pryde had been diagnosed with panic disorder in 2007 but, after treatment and counselling, was “substantially free” of symptoms by November 2008 and they did not recur until October 2011. She had started work as a tax credit advisor with HMRC in March that year and, after being absent on three occasions with nausea, was given a written warning in August 2011.
During that period, her grandmother became ill and she split from her partner, who was harassing her, and her panic attacks were returning, causing her to be absent from work and becoming anxious about further disciplinary action.
Capita’s occupational health adviser Patricia Shorney, who, not having sought Ms Pryde’s medical records and having no information on her condition, issued a report containing “a number of inaccuracies”, the tribunal stated.
In her report Ms Shorney said Ms Pryde’s health was improving and added: “These symptoms are unlikely to impact upon her activities of daily living” — a statement her union representative described as “a load of rubbish”.
Despite Ms Pryde relating that she disagreed “fundamentally” with Capita’s findings, and her line manager Ms Pieroni agreeing to arrange for a stress risk assessment to be done, none was carried out before she was sacked.
Neither did Ms Pieroni contact Capita or Ms Shorney regarding the report.
The tribunal ruled that, while the respondents’ witnesses had not deliberately sought to mislead the tribunal, in hindsight they had difficulty in justifying some of the decisions they had made at the time.
The man who sacked Ms Pryde, Fraser Hamilton, is off work on long-term sick leave and did not give evidence.
However, he was described by the panel as having treated Ms Pryde “rather shabbily”, although they did not find that was because of her disability (which he was unaware of) or that he treated her less favourably than a non-disabled employee.
Ms Pryde had claimed she was discriminated against due to her disability and that there was a failure to make reasonable adjustments due to her disability or direct discrimination in terms of the equality act.
The tribunal states it was in “absolutely no doubt” there was sufficient information for HMRC to know she had a disability and as such, she was discriminated against and HMRC failed to make reasonable adjustments. However, her claim of direct discrimination failed.
In addition to the £11,570, HMRC must pay Ms Pryde £1,511.39 in interest, which continues to accrue until payment.