In the recent Employment Tribunal case of Mrs G Rouse v Andron Contract Services Ltd, the tribunal awarded Mrs Rouse £100,000 for being "pushed out" of her job when her employer threatened her with redundancy, failed to make reasonable adjustments to her role and put her health at risk.

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The background

Mrs Rouse was employed in 2017 as a cleaning company manager for the Respondent, Andron. She suffered a heart attack in July 2019.

She was then signed off work for three months to recuperate. However, in September 2019, she received a letter from her employer informing her that she was at risk of redundancy.

The letter also contained a proposal that Mrs Rouse take up a new role on a reduced salary, which would require her to undertake heavy lifting, a role which would be medically inadvisable due to her heart condition.

Over the following months of her employment, there was a disorganised and drawn-out redundancy process. Consultation meetings were scheduled and cancelled several times, and Mrs Rouse was not updated on the risk of redundancy.

In October 2019, she filed a grievance complaining that the business had ignored her illness and the heightened need for her to avoid stress because of her heart problems.

As Mrs Rouse readied herself for a return to work, Andron failed to take her health problems seriously.

Despite the doctor ordering her to drive no more than four hours a day, her workload increased, and she was required to drive for 8 hours per day. They also failed to progress an occupational health referral.

Doctors told Mrs Rouse in January 2020 that she required a possibly life-saving operation to insert a defibrillator, which would mean potentially having to stop driving for anywhere between six months and two years.

When the manager in charge of her redundancy process heard this, they told her, "F***, f***, f***, how are you going to do your job?".

Mrs Rouse resigned in February 2020, bringing a range of claims to the employment tribunal and complaining that her employer had not taken her health seriously and continued to pressure her, putting her health at risk.

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The decision

The tribunal upheld her claims for unfair dismissal (constructive dismissal), wrongful dismissal, discrimination arising from disability and (in part) failure to make reasonable adjustments.

She was awarded £101,028 in compensation.

The judge felt that the employer likely wanted to make her redundant since September 2019 but had hesitated for fear of being seen as failing to support a disabled employee.

Therefore, they tried to drive out Mrs Rouse by adding to her duties, giving her difficult contracts to complete and increasing her driving time.

The judge concluded that "she was faced with the choice of either risking her health or not fully performing her role in circumstances where she had been told her job was at risk.".

Mrs Rouse had suffered the poor treatment for a long time, to the detriment of her own health, and was found to have been entitled to decide that "enough was enough".

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What does this mean for employers?

The facts of this case are extreme, and it is unlikely that the average employer would make as many mistakes as Andron did here.

Assuming Andron had a genuine redundancy situation, had they focused on that process and progressed this in a timely manner with meaningful consultation, the situation might not have deteriorated as it did.

In addition, they clearly shouldn't have ignored Mrs Rouse's serious health problems in the way they did.

This case serves as a useful reminder for employers of some key elements of good practice when handling employee health problems and managing redundancy processes. That is:

  • Maintain regular communication with employees in a redundancy process and don't let the process drift.
  • Ensure the redundancy proposals are clearly understood and that, where an employee has a disability, this has been factored into the planning to ensure there is no risk of the proposals being discriminatory.
  • When managing an employee with a serious medical condition, it's sensible to obtain occupational health advice to ensure that their return to work is safely managed and help employers comply with their obligations under disability laws.
  • Employers should ensure they fully understand their employees' medical conditions, including an appreciation of their conditions' impact so that they know how best to support them. This should include an exploration of any reasonable adjustments that ought to be implemented.

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If you need help navigating redundancies and sickness management or need advice concerning any of the issues raised in this article, you can contact a member of our Employment Team at:

0161 941 4000