News & Views

Tribunal recommends training for Iceland staff

BY Katy Marshall
Employment law
BG Purple

After working for the food chain Iceland in South Wales for almost almost two years, Ms Crisp became ill with panic attacks, resulting in an extended period of absence. Having previously worked for the company, Ms Crisp had been honest in her interview about her condition and the fact that it was a disability.

During her absence, Ms Crisp sent in sick notes explaining her absence, but many of these did not reach the correct manager. To compound matters, her store had the wrong contact details for her, meaning any enquiries about her absence did not reach her. The company deemed Ms Crisp's absences to be unauthorised and because they had not heard from her, the company invoked its disciplinary policy and dismissed her in her absence: a fact that was only discovered by her when her pay ceased.

Ms Crisp appealed the decision but, on the basis of her disability, requested that her husband or mother could be her companion. Iceland chose to stick to its usual policy of allowing companions to be a colleague or union representative only. A voicemail for Ms Crisp was accidentally left by her area manager and HR contact discussing this point, with her manager making light of her condition and stating that she would "have a panic attack" when she told her husband he could not accompany her. The HR contact laughed during these comments. Understandably, Ms Crisp's condition deteriorated after receiving this voicemail as she thought she was seen as "a crazy mental person" by the company.

Ms Crisp's appeal proceeded with her mother waiting outside the hearing room. Despite being reinstated and being offered the chance to move to another store, Ms Crisp resigned.

The tribunal found that Ms Crisp had been constructively dismissed because her treatment had breached the implied terms of trust and confidence. The voicemail constituted disability harassment and direct disability HR and the tribunal further found that there had been a failure to make reasonable adjustments on the grounds of her disability in relation to the appeal hearing. She was awarded £7,000 for injury to feelings.

What makes this case one of interest to employers are the recommendations made by the tribunal. By 23 May 2013, Iceland must give disability HR training with a mental health focus to all HR staff who assist managers in disciplinary and grievance matters, as well as to all senior managers. 

To avoid being subject to such recommendations (and to avoid the public embarrassment of being told how to train your own staff) we recommend that management staff are trained in all elements of HR.  Please speak to your Legal Manager for more information about how we can help you with this

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