An employee who was left with permanent nerve damage and a limp after being hit by a car was made to feel ‘worthless’ by colleagues
A bank worker who was run over by a car on her first day in a new job and left disabled has been awarded more than £4.7m after being made to feel “worthless” and “unsupported” by her colleagues.
The tribunal heard the woman, known only as AB in the tribunal documents, was diagnosed with severe depression and psychosis after years of bullying behaviour at several London branches of NatWest, which is owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).
AB made more than 60 allegations of harassment and disability discrimination covering the entirety of her employment at NatWest from 2008 to 2014, including being shouted at and being called “stupid” at work.
AB told the tribunal she was knocked down by a car in August 2008 on her way to start her first day at NatWest in Croydon, London. She suffered significant injuries, including a broken leg and damage to her knee ligaments, and was left disabled with permanent nerve damage and a limp.
She was able to start work as a customer services officer two months later, but needed to wear a foot splint throughout her employment. The tribunal heard that these injuries caused AB pain throughout her employment, and this affected her ability to work.
As a result of her disability, AB told the tribunal she was shouted at by other staff members who insinuated that her disability made her “worthless” and “no help” to customers.
The tribunal also heard that the bank made her work on the till despite her disability, failed to provide her with occupational therapy and did not adjust her workstation according to her needs.
The tribunal agreed she was coerced into agreeing to a demotion from customer adviser back to customer services officer in September 2013. After this, AB said she was then denied a transfer to another branch because staff believed her physical disabilities would limit her ability to perform the job, leaving her feeling “humiliated”.
AB resigned from NatWest in May 2014, and contended she had suffered a serious psychiatric injury as a result of the unlawful discrimination that prevented her from working and which required round-the-clock care.
In February 2016, the East London Tribunal ruled that the failure to make reasonable adjustments relating to AB’s workstation, requiring her to work on the till, the bullying comments towards her and not permitting her to transfer to another bank amounted to discrimination.
The tribunal also found that the discriminatory behavior had resulted in AB being constructively unfairly dismissed.
The tribunal ordered RBS to pay £4,670,535 in damages to cover AB’s ongoing care, which the bank appealed, claiming that AB’s psychiatric condition was “attributable” to other factors, including childhood trauma.
But the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) rejected this argument, saying the original tribunal’s reasons were “coherent and clear”, and the psychiatric evidence presented to the tribunal “addresses and resolves the disputes as to whether or not AB had exaggerated her symptoms”.
The EAT ordered RBS to pay £4,670,535, plus an additional £54,266 to cover lost interest, a sum thought to be the largest ever awarded for disability discrimination, leading to a total of £4,724,801.
This case is a very extreme example of how poor management of an employee’s disability can lead to significant discrimination claims, especially if this also has an impact on their mental health.
“To this end, employers must be aware of the law surrounding disability in the workplace,” Palmer said. “If any accusation of discrimination is made, not taking this seriously can leave the company liable to potentially huge payouts.”
RBS has not responded to a request for comment.
27 Apr 2020 By Maggie Baska
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