St John and Elizabeth Hospital to pay £75,000 in workplace health claim

A London employment tribunal has ruled that private healthcare business St John and Elizabeth Hospital must pay £75,000 to an ex-employee in what it deemed was a case of unfair dismissal.

The case, Ms E Kalhor v The Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth, concerned an employee who resigned from the position of outpatient administration clerk in April 2020, following occupational health concerns that she claimed were ignored.

The tribunal deemed that Kalhor was disabled during the period from October 2018 to her resignation in 2020, due to cervical spondylosis. This condition caused significant discomfort when sitting down for long periods, as well as problems moving her neck while sitting at a computer.

Kalhor alleged that her treatment at work as a result of her condition, and her employer’s refusal to address or take seriously her health concerns, resulted in direct discrimination, failure to make reasonable adjustments, harassment, victimisation and, ultimately, unfair dismissal.

The claimant’s contract stated that she was to work 37.5 hours per week, over a shift pattern including early, mid and late shifts. In 2018, an occupational health report showed that she was suffering from back pain that would limit her abilities.

Kalhor also complained of various issues with her workspace, including uneven and broken flooring, which impacted her work and exacerbated her condition, as well as issues with staffing and turnover, ineffective equipment, and management behaviour. These complaints resulted in a grievance, which the case claimed was not sufficiently addressed.

A further occupational health report was provided in 2019, following periods of sickness absence due to her condition, which suggested various accommodations that could be made in order to help Kalhor work. She reported that these steps were not taken, and even that her manager had stated that the organisation was unwilling to accommodate sickness, in addition to other negative and sarcastic comments.

The claimant was given a new role, which St John and Elizabeth Hospital claimed was in order to accommodate her needs, but which she reported constituted a demotion, and did not, in fact, address the impacts of the work on her health.

In April 2020, Kalhor resigned from her role, citing continued breaches of the terms of her contract, failure to investigate grievances and occupational health concerns, reduction of pay and harassment.

Although the tribunal found that the treatment did not amount to disability discrimination, it concluded that Kalhor was unfairly dismissed, in addition to upholding in part various claims relating to harassment, discrimination, and failure to make reasonable adjustments.

The claimant was awarded the sum of £74,683.42 overall, to compensate for loss of earnings, as well as physical and psychological injury.

The employment tribunal’s judgement stated: “We concluded that there was no proper or appropriate discussion with the claimant at any time about her medical issues and the adjustments which were suggested to her role in the [occupational health] and medical reports…the failure to consider or properly consider the [occupational health] reports clearly placed the claimant at a disadvantage, as adjustments which may have been possible to her role and/or a change or hours, or other possible roles, were not considered by the respondent.

“We concluded based on the remarks made to the claimant and the complete failure to discuss or action the [occupational health] reports, that there was a grudging and negative attitude towards the claimant’s disability among her management team…the ignoring of the request for adjustments had the effect of creating a hostile environment at work, and it was conduct which violated the claimant’s dignity.

“She needed adjustments and she was saying so. Ignoring this was an act which clearly impacted on the claimant and was we considered objectively a troubling issue. It was reasonable for the conduct to have this effect; we considered that any employee whose manager is ignoring a request for adjustments set out in a medical report would feel that their manager was acting in a hostile way, and this would reasonably violate employees’ dignity.”

St John and Elizabeth Hospital was contacted for comment prior to publication.