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Employment Law

Legal guidance - compliance - software

03 MAY 2016

Uncaring comments about disability can amount to discrimination

Uncaring comments about disability can amount to discrimination
Nick Murrell
Solicitor, Veale Wasbrough Vizards

An employment tribunal has held that telling an employee with depression that 'everyone gets depressed sometimes, you just have to pull yourself together' amounted to discrimination arising from disability.

The facts

In Wickers v Colchester Visionplus Ltd t/a Specsavers Opticians, Ms Wickers was an optical assistant at Specsavers who had received informal and formal warnings for lateness, a dispensing error and failure to follow her employer's absence notification procedure.

She was diagnosed with depression and told a director who was unsympathetic and dismissive, claiming:'everyone gets depressed sometimes, you just have to pull yourself together'.

Following this encounter, Ms Wickers was absent from work on a number of occasions, made a further dispensing error and was again late for work having overslept due to the effect her depression medication had on her sleep. In spite of Ms Wickers informing the director that she was on medication for her depression, the director commenced disciplinary action and informed her that this was likely to lead to her dismissal. Ms Wickers resigned.

The tribunal's decision

An employment tribunal upheld her claims for discrimination arising from disability, failure to make reasonable adjustments and harassment, stating 'the suggestion that a person with depression should just "pull yourself together" is humiliating and offensive.'

Best practice

It is advisable for employers to have an equal opportunities policy in place which is made available to all staff in order to set minimum standards of behaviour in this respect. Employers should also provide appropriate training on the policy seeking to reduce the risk of discriminatory conduct taking place in the workplace for which employers will be liable.
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