Employment tribunal rules unfair dismissal for an employee with mental health problems following a heart attack after a work altercation. Mr. Gordon Flemming, who worked as a vehicle technician for the East of England Ambulance Services NHS Trust was recently dismissed by his employer on grounds of gross misconduct. However, after examining the details of the case, the employment tribunal ruled in Mr Flemming’s favour, stating that he was unfairly dismissed.
Three years before his dismissal, when Mr Flemming had difficulty locating and communicating with his line manager to receive instructions concerning his allocation of work. According to reports, Mr. Flemming was considered disabled due to his anxiety-depression disorder. However, the disability had not thus far affected his ability to execute his duties.
Mr. Flemming was upset and suffered chest pains and shortness of breath after an altercation with a co-worker. The details of the altercation were unconfirmed; however, the symptoms experienced by Mr. Flemming led to him being taken to the hospital. There, it was confirmed that he had suffered a heart attack. Following this diagnosis, he was admitted, and later discharged from the hospital, and then signed off work to recuperate.
An unconfirmed amount of time passed after which Mr. Flemming was informed by an Occupational Health specialist of his fitness to return to work, with his work days to be increased as he felt able to do so. After his return, a mediation session arranged for Mr. Flemming and his line manager failed, as Mr. Flemming claimed to have perceived the work environment to be very hostile. The return of his heart attack symptoms led to him being readmitted into hospital.
Sometime later, an Occupational Health report declared that he had suffered psychological symptoms. The report however concluded that a phased return to work would not have any negative impact on his overall health. Another report suggested that Mr. Flemming harboured bitter feelings towards the trust and did not see the feasibility of his successful return to work. The report also stated that Mr. Flemming would not want his employment to be terminated.
All subsequent attempts by the new director of Human Resources to get Mr. Flemming to ask for notes declaring him fit to work were futile. Mr Flemming was later warned by the Head of Fleet that a refusal to acknowledge the request could lead to consequences of formal action and or a cessation of his pay.
Mr Flemming ignored the warnings and was absent from all subsequent meetings and hearings organized for him. He was later dismissed for gross misconduct.
The Tribunal Ruling
The employment tribunal recognized that Mr Flemming was difficult to manage and uncooperative. However, it ruled in Mr. Flemming’s favour because it believed that the trust failed to view Mr. Flemming’s situation holistically, especially the difficulties he experienced in the workplace.
The Bottom Line
Regardless of the difficulties faced by employers in managing employees, they must view the situation from the employee’s perspective and consider all the challenges he/she might face.
If you think that you have been unfairly dismissed then seek guidance of an employment solicitor on a no win, no fee basis to see if you have a valid claim to put before a tribunal.