A tribunal has awarded £11,840 to a woman who brought a case against her former employer under the Disability Discrimination Act.
The industrial tribunal found that Charles Hurst Limited failed in its duty to make reasonable adjustments for Marie-Claire McLaughlin, who was employed by the company as a customer service advisor.
Due to mental ill-health Ms McLaughlin had applied to reduce her working hours, a process which took 14 months and was described by the tribunal as “long drawn out”.
According to the Equality Commission who assisted Ms McLaughlin in her case, she had been employed by the car dealers since July 2012, and worked an average of 47.8 hours per week including Saturday mornings.
She had suffered previously from mental ill-health and had absences from work due to bouts of depression and panic attacks.
Ms McLaughlin applied to reduce her working hours to 40 per week and made specific reference to her disability and the severe impact it was having on her and her colleagues.
The tribunal found that her request “was not considered in an appropriate manner”.
“It was consistently dealt with as an application for flexible working, with an emphasis on the needs of the business. There was little or no focus on the needs of the claimant,” it stated.
According to the tribunal the 14 months timeframe for dealing with the request was “at least four and a half months too long” and could have speeded up “had the employer focused correctly on the concept of reasonable adjustments under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995”.
Of the effect it had on her health Ms McLaughlin said: “My employer didn’t seem to grasp how serious an impact this was having on my life, inside and outside of work. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me, the stress of the whole situation did not help my mental health, it just added to the pressure.”
Dr Michael Wardlow, chief commissioner of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, said: “Marie-Claire’s case brings into focus an issue which is an increasing area of concern for all in the workplace. There is a need for employers to be more pro-active in addressing issues around mental health.”
Following the tribunal’s ruling, a spokesperson for Charles Hurst said: “This case draws attention to key learnings for every employer and we note the industrial tribunal’s judgment and the decisions made.
“Charles Hurst Group vehemently opposes all forms of unlawful or unfair discrimination and notes that the tribunal acknowledged that the company did not discriminate against Ms McLaughlin on the grounds of her disability.
“The tribunal also ruled, unanimously, that neither did the company victimise nor harass the claimant.
“We fully accept, however, the tribunal’s one ruling that the length of time which was taken to implement a reduction in working hours was too long and we deeply regret any distress this caused.”