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Employment Law Case Update: Discrimination and Psychiatric Harm

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Our Employment Law team here reviews the case of Royal Bank of Scotland v AB, and explain how serious a judgment against an employer can be when discriminatory treatment causes psychiatric harm. 

AB worked for the Royal Bank of Scotland from October 2008 until she resigned in May 2014. Throughout this period she worked at various NatWest branches. In August 2008, while travelling to her first day of work, AB was hit by a car. She sustained serious injuries including a broken leg, nerve damage, and damage to her knee ligaments. She began work two months later but needed crutches, a leg brace, and foot splint. Throughout her employment she remained in constant pain and “continued to wear the foot splint and walked with a slight limp.”

Despite her disability, she was still required to work the till and no adjustments were made to her work station.  She was not provided with occupational therapy, and a request to transfer branches was denied. AB submitted to the Employment Tribunal (ET) hat she was denied the transfer because staff were concerned her physical disabilities would impede her doing her job.

She was also the victim of many hurtful comments by other members of staff. The ET heard that she was shouted at by co-workers who insinuated that she was “stupid,” “worthless,” and “no help” to customers.

AB was off on sick leave in July and August 2013 and again from the end of December 2013 until her resignation. These absences were due to “low mood and physical pain.”

The ET found that RBS had breached its “obligation to maintain the necessary relationship of trust and confidence,” and its “implied obligation to provide a safe working environment.” Therefore, her resignation amounted to an unfair constructive dismissal. The ET also found that the failure to make reasonable adjustments, such as removing her from till work, adjusting her work station or moving her to a different branch and the bullying by colleagues amounted to discrimination based on disability.

AB alleged that she was experiencing severe depression and brought evidence to the ET to show that the depression (which included psychosis) had been caused by the treatment she had received at the bank and that she was, as a result, unable to work and unlikely ever to be able to return to work.

The ET found that the psychiatric harm endured by AB was mostly caused by the discriminatory treatment she suffered at work. RBS appealed this decision, arguing that the ET should have attributed more of the harm to the car accident itself and past childhood trauma. The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) rejected this ground of appeal and upheld the ET’s original ruling. The EAT also rejected the argument by RBS that AB had exaggerated the extent of her psychiatric harm.

AB was awarded £4.7 million by the ET, which was upheld by the EAT.

This case is an example of just how costly discrimination claims can be for employers, especially if the discrimination is linked to psychiatric harm for the employee. Employers should take all necessary steps to ensure each employee feels safe and valued. Such steps include making reasonable adjustments to accommodate disabilities and diversity training for all employees.

If you have any questions regarding this article, you can call our Employment team today on 023 8071 7717 or email employment@warnergoodman.co.uk.

This was previously part of our weekly Employment Law Newsletter. If you would like to subscribe, please email us at events@warnergoodman.co.uk or just fill in our subscription form.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.