Record Disability Discrimination Payout for Welsh firm Jewson
Jonathan Jones was branch manager for Jewson Ltd in Cardigan, West Wales and had been employed by them for 22 years. He had signed a 48 hour opt out agreement and there was a clear expectation that branch managers would work far in excess of their contracted hours. In practice Jones had been averaging over 60 hours working time per week, was not taking his full entitlement of holidays and was consistently carrying over a considerable proportion of untaken holiday each year. In April 2009 Jones suffered a stroke. After the stroke his doctor reported that he needed to avoid stress at work and Jones accepted that any role was going to be stressful. His area director, a colleague and friend over many years, agreed and in conjunction with HR decided that no role was going to be without stress. As a result, after 5 months sick leave, Jewson dismissed him on grounds of incapacity.
The Tribunals Decision
At a liability hearing in August 2010, the Tribunal in Cardiff found the dismissal was unfair and amounted to disability discrimination by reason of failure to make reasonable adjustments.
At a remedy hearing on 06 July 2011, the Employment Tribunal ordered Jewson Ltd to pay Jones £390,870.58 including £15,000 injury to feelings and an uplift of approximately £18,000, effectively as a penalty for unreasonable failure to follow the ACAS Code of Practice on disciplinary and dismissal procedures.
This is Wales’ highest ever discrimination award and believed to be the third highest disability discrimination award in UK history.
Jewson were complacent in accepting that its existing working practices of long hours were necessary. This was no doubt the view of its area director and Jones appears to have agreed with him. Some reallocation of duties and additional managerial support could have created a less stressful environment.
If a less stressful working environment could be created, then it would also have been reasonable to allow Jones more time to recover his good health so that he could return to work. Although during the 5 months absence Jones’ recovery was slow and prospects appeared poor, he in fact made a complete recovery within 11 months of the stroke.
Jewson assumed that Jones’ condition was so severe that his health was at risk if he returned to work in any role. Jewson assumed its working practices were necessary for an efficient business. The golden rule is: never assume. It is nearly always worthwhile to take time to challenge your assumptions, to look at matters from a different perspective.