‘I had to change jobs when I discovered I had a heart condition so I could do something that wasn’t so physical. I got a job as a GP receptionist and I loved it! I got on really well with my colleagues from day one and I was looking forward to that being my working career.
‘When Covid came along, given my heart condition and the information being given to the public about the risks regarding underlying health conditions, I made the decision that I needed to shield to protect my health so I spoke to my practice manager who I believed agreed with me. I went home and waited to receive a shielding letter from the NHS. My employer asked if I was prepared to work from home and I said I was. At this point I was placed on furlough.
‘I’m a single mum and I have had lots of financial struggles in the past so it is important to me to be working, to be independent and earning my own money to support myself and children.
‘I was still waiting to receive the shielding letter so I spoke to my GP who said because they had such a huge patient base, they were sticking to the list of specific illnesses, but I should work from home if I could and otherwise abide by strict social distancing. I let my employer know this.
‘I was paid furlough for March and April 2020 and was due to be paid in May, but two days before my pay date, I received a hand-delivered letter saying I was absent without leave and that if I didn’t return to the surgery they would take disciplinary action.
‘I just felt crushed. I’ve been through a lot of trauma in my past but this situation was one of the worst because I couldn’t do anything to help myself or change it. The country was in lockdown!
‘I remember thinking we are going to starve; I can’t pay my bills and we will lose the roof over our heads.
‘As a result I had a complete mental breakdown and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I thought about resigning but my fear was that if I quit I would leave myself and the children with no money and I would be sanctioned by the benefits agency for making myself intentionally unemployed.
‘Financially it was really difficult. I got behind on my rent and I had to rely on the kindness of neighbours and my close family for food.
‘My employer at this time also decided to deduct half of my SSP stating as I only worked part time I was only entitled to half. She then took a further 10% of that for what she claimed to be the overpayment of furlough money.
‘All her emails I found to be so cruel and aggressive. I struggled dealing with the relentless correspondence given my mental state at that time.
‘I really felt my employer had stereotyped me as an unintelligent, inarticulate single mum living in social housing and could therefore push me to the point I crumbled and went away! She couldn’t be more wrong. Believe me, us single mums are made of much stronger stuff!
‘I contacted Citizens Advice who asked if I had a solicitor and told me that there is a strict time limit to put a claim into an Employment tribunal so I did that immediately and then on their advice I contacted the Law Centre to see if they could help me.
‘I was put in touch with Lance who went through everything with me. After sending him hundreds of pages of correspondence he informed me my employer’s behaviour was discriminatory.
‘That really was the light bulb moment and the push I needed to carry on this fight.
‘As I had informed my employer about my heart condition before I started, I had a claim for disability discrimination and for failure to make reasonable adjustments and so we built the case on that.
‘The tribunal lasted five days. I was so nervous and was really stressed but because Lance and Ash had done such a good job in preparing my witness statement I wasn’t questioned for long at all. It was horrific waiting for the judgement and then when it came I broke down. I was just crying my eyes out every time the Judge said, ‘We find in favour of the claimant.’ I cannot explain it. I had been holding everything together and I could finally let go. I’ve never cried like that before. I messaged all my friends and family and said, ‘We’ve done it!’
‘Richard [my barrister] negotiated the compensation which was way beyond what I’d expected. Not only did I get justice for the way I had been treated which was always the driving force of the entire process but I was compensated for what they had put me and my children through. The sum of money just blew my mind. I have never had a lot of money so knowing I can put that away for my children… I genuinely can’t believe it.
‘I cannot thank you guys enough. Everyone that has been involved in my case has been so supportive and nothing but positive. I still can’t believe all this has happened because one man at Citizens Advice said, “Put your case to the Law Centre and see if they can help.”’
Tracy started working for her former employer in 2019. She has a medical condition, which is a disability, and which affects her cardiovascular health. In early 2020, as Covid-19 began spreading across the UK, Tracy asked her employer if she could work from home given her disability and the risks to her health. They initially put her on furlough but their relationship deteriorated to such an extent that Tracy felt that she had no other option than to resign. Tracy’s mental health is still impacted by the treatment she received.
Tracy took her former employer to court for disability discrimination and, in particular, a failure to make reasonable adjustments, discrimination arising from a disability, suffering a health and safety detriment, and a holiday pay claim. She was successful in her claims against her former employer during a week-long hearing at the Employment Tribunal and was awarded £45,000 for the discrimination and health and safety detriment she suffered, along with her holiday pay claim.
Following the decision, Lance Baynham, former discrimination caseworker at the Law Centre, said:
‘This is a case which demonstrates the importance of access to legal advice and legal aid. Tracy had legal expenses insurance, yet the advice she received through this was flawed and she was told that her case did not have realistic prospects of success. Had it not been for the assistance she received through the Law Centre, that would likely have been the end of her matter. She would not have received any redress for her treatment, which involved her employer leaving her without pay and reliant on food banks and the generosity of neighbours to feed herself and her children in circumstances where her disability prevented her from attending work in person during the pandemic. Under legal aid, we were able to assist Tracy throughout her claim to its conclusion at a final Employment Tribunal hearing.
‘I am delighted for Tracy and hope that this result will help her move forward along the road to recovery from the trauma she experienced.’
If you think you may have experienced discrimination at work, please contact us here to see if we can help you.