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Employers reminded of the need to be professional and appropriate at all times in communication with employees

No matter how frustrating the situation, employers must remain professional and appropriate in their dealings with employees as highlighted in the recent case of Miss P Murphy v Northumberland County Council in which a poor relationship between manager and employee broke down.

Ms Murphy, a disabled social worker, won her discrimination and harassment claims after she was asked by her manager how long “this disabled thing” was going to continue. This was the culmination of a fraught relationship ending in 2017 when she was unfairly dismissed on the grounds of ill-health. She commenced work for the council in 1999 and suffered a physical impairment to her feet after an injury. Ms Murphy’s claim of victimisation was rejected.

Judge Andrew MacPherson Buchanan noted that some managers lacked suitable training despite “clear evidence” such training was needed.

Ms Murphy’s foot injury occurred in 2014 followed by years of problems between her and her line manager. This included periods off work for operations and changing roles as Murphy was unable to travel to complete her work as a social worker and team leader.

The judgement details a series of meetings and conversations which were held by Northumberland County Council and various members of staff in relation to Ms Murphy’s work, injuries and time away from work, culminating in meetings where Murphy’s manager is found to have likened Murphy’s behaviour to that of a stroppy teenager and made comments stating that she wanted to poke the claimant’s eyes out, as well as commenting that she sick of the claimant bringing up the issue of her no longer being a team leader.

Judge Buchanan said MacDonald’s remark about feeling like poking Murphy’s eyes out by reason of her behaviour “should never fall from the lips of a senior manager” but were not an act of harassment or discrimination.

The tribunal found the council had failed in its duty to make reasonable adjustments, had discriminated against Murphy because of her disability and unfairly dismissed her.

Employers are reminded that disability discrimination claims are on the rise and robust training must be given to employees and line managers on dealing with sensitive discussions and difficult members of staff.

Posted on 6 June, 2019 by Ortolan

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