Council forks out almost £5,000 for “offensive comments”
An employer – Rotherham Council – has been ordered to pay almost £5,000 in compensation after “offensive” comments were made to a disabled member of staff by his line manager. Gareth Matthews, Head of Employment, considers the implications of this case in more detail, particularly in light of the fact that the comments were made following a flexible working request.
The Council’s former assistant chief executive, Shokat Lal, made comments to Yassir Mahmood, following a flexible working request made my him.
After making the request, Mr Mahmood’s line manager, Mr Lal, told him to “manage your own life” and also told him that his health condition was “not the organisation’s responsibility”. These comments left Mr Mahmood feeling offended, humiliated and degraded.
Mr Mahmood had made the request to help him care for his family and manage a life-long disability. As a result of his treatment following the flexible working request he raised a claim for harassment, based on the protected characteristic of disability.
Disability harassment involves subjecting an individual to conduct which:
- is unwanted, and
- is ‘related to’ ‘disability’
where the unwanted conduct has the purpose or effect of:
- violating the victim’s dignity or
- creating an environment that is intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive to the victim
The Employment Tribunal upheld Mr Mahmood’s claim, stating that the comments amounted to disability-related harassment, consequently awarding £4,881.11 for “injury to feelings”.
This case serves as a reminder that flexible working requests should be dealt with sensitively and professionally, especially where the underlying reason for the request is rooted in an employee’s disability. An employer is not obliged to agree to such a request but must consider any such request in a reasonable manner. More generally, management training and robust equality policies will help to minimise an employer’s exposure to potentially costly and damaging discrimination claims.
By Zara Green, MLP Law