Case Study - Employment: Rachel's Story about chronic pain and discrimination at work
"Rachel overcomes chronic illness issues and fights to keep her job".
A woman employee is discriminated against for her abdominal chronic pain and mental health in Birmingham
Type of law:
Employment - Disability Discrimination
Rachel approached us in 2019 as a female employee of a large pharmaceutical distribution company. She is 26 years old.
Her job was to oversee and manage the smooth distribution of cosmetics and medical beauty products for the fulfilment of online customer orders. The foreign-owned distribution warehouse had state-of-the-art mechanisation and processes were highly automated. Rachel’s job was Production Supervisor and her role was to ensure that products left the warehouse on time and that any delays were resolved quickly. Rachel loved her job and she was known as the ‘queen bee’ at the warehouse, everyone liked her and listened to her. She was a key employee who had been noticed for her people skills and had been fast-tracked into a responsible position.
Unfortunately for Rachel, over the past 36 months she has developed an acute form of Endometriosis, which has also led to IBS, infertility and mental health problems.
Endometriosis is a chronic condition which affects women, resulting from cellular endometrium growing in the abdomen and reproductive organs. It is like Japanese Knotweed, appearing in places without explanation causing significant damage and pain. It has no means of stopping, repeatedly reoccurring regardless of any treatment. It is a terribly debilitating pain.
The medical condition affects Rachel in several ways. The most significant is that she is unable to get out of bed on some mornings due to her acute pain and depression. She is a committed employee and really wants to get in to work, but her condition means that she can’t function as she had before. Some days are fine, other days are awful.
Rachel tells her employer about her health issues
Rachel explained her health condition to the HR Manager at work and although the HR Manager was sympathetic, Rachel could tell that the news had not been well-received. Rachel was an important key-worker employee with a strategic role and having a few days off each month in a random way was not going to be helpful at all.
Over the following months, Rachel was in a poor way and it was affecting her job. She spoke to the HR Manager again and asked if there was a way that she could adapt her job in a way that could help her situation, Rachel asked if she could change her working hours and be allowed dispensation not to trigger the absence policy the employer held if she was unwell due to either of her conditions (endometriosis, IBS and mental health) but the HR Manager was clear, they needed someone 5 days a week on the set hours she worked. The factory which Rachel worked operated 24 hours a day, with many different shift patterns available. Rachel was aware that other employees, those that were friends with the HR Manager had been allowed to change their shifts for non-disability or heath related reasons.
The HR Manager, who was male, had been initially sympathetic, but there was an unspoken inference that Rachel was probably exaggerating her symptoms and could easily cope with her job and was perhaps trying to have a few days off each month.
Time off work affects her job
The company’s sympathy turned dismissive as Rachel continued to fail to perform in her role and kept taking time off. Eventually the company made the decision to take Rachel off the line and gave her job to one of her colleagues, a male who had been chosen as her replacement and considered less likely to have gynecological problems due to his sex, therefore would fit their needs.
This news was shattering for Rachel, not only was she unable to perform the job she loved and was in constant abdominal pain, she had been moved sideways to allow someone else to take her job and her career had been cut short. She had been given less responsibility and was treated like a second-class employee by a predominantly male executive with no hopes of further recognition or attainment.
What could Rachel do?
We immediately understood Rachel’s condition and symptoms and acted. We contacted the HR Manager, and, with the evidence provided by Rachel, she was able to show the company how they had not complied with current employment law legislation.
There were several avenues the company could have taken to support Rachel in her health condition, and by ignoring these and eventually moving her sideways, they had not complied with the law or their obligations as employers. In fact, there were several actions the employer had got wrong surrounding this case of discrimination.
How her lawyer helped her
As Rachel had such a good case against her former employer, we knew she could take her case all the way to the Employment Tribunal for Disability Discrimination and Rachel’s employer could face legal fees and court costs of in excess of £20,000 if they lost the case.
However, Rachel didn’t have lots of cash to fight her claim through the courts. Luckily, Rachel’s household content insurance policy had been underwritten with Legal Expenses Insurance and this meant that Rachel could progress her claim through the courts. Lawson West's costs following commencing litigation and the costs of the trial would be borne by the insurance company even if her case failed.
The case progressed to court and was heard by an Employment Tribunal in January 2020. Rachel was successful in her claim and was awarded compensation.
Her life now
Rachel kept her original job and her employer was forced to make the necessary preparations to ensure that there was adequate cover in her department for when she was taken poorly.
Rachel returned to work and continues in the job she loves.
If you are facing difficulties at work and need supportive advice, please contact me, Vaishali Thakerar, Head of Employment at Lawson-West Solicitors, we're here to help.
Vaishali Thakerar, Director
Tel: 0116 212 1000
This case study is provided as example only and is based on the types of employment law case managed by Lawson-West. All names and situation details have been changed to protect the individuals and the employers. Please note that this is a basic overview only and should not be construed or relied upon as advice. Lawson-West Solicitors Limited accepts no duty of care to any third party in connection with this case study. You are encouraged to seek legal advice for your own set of circumstances and actions may differ from those illustrated.View all