A worker who received a warning from his employers following an asthma attack has been awarded £26,000 at a tribunal. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) inappropriately labelled Barrie Caulcutt, a ‘whinger.’ A comment that backfired as the tribunal considered this as unfair treatment.
Caulcutt worked in DWP’s Caernarfon office for 35 years. He stated his ‘life was made hell’ by his employers ‘merciless treatment’.
The employment tribunal ruled that DWP discriminated against Caulcutt as they failed to make reasonable adjustments for his disability. The fifty-five-year-old worker suffers from anxiety, chronic asthma, eczema, and was previously diagnosed with prostate cancer — which was successfully treated.
Barrie was moved to work on the ‘frontline’ which meant he had to deal directly with benefits claimants who would more than often than not be angry and taking their calls would be stressful. Caulcutt’s GP and DWP’s occupational health advisors strongly advised against transitioning Caulcutt into a customer facing role.
Caulcutt asked to be excused from a training seminar in March 2014, due to his anxiety. He later had an asthma attack and was taken to the hospital. After taking 2.5 more sick days than the statutory allowance, DWP gave him a written warning.
In September 2014, Bev Lovatt, DWP Manager, emailed Eiddwen Borland, JobCentre manager in Caernarfon, stating: “Let him whinge like crap and raise it in his employment tribunal. He doesn’t deserve us to be nice to him”.
When he could have died from his asthma attack, the last thing Caulcutt needed from the DWP was a written warning. This case highlights how reasonable adjustments should have been made so Barrie could have worked effectively. DWP received medical expert advice from occupational health which they chose to ignore. Had they taken it onboard, DWP would have been seen to have treated Caulcutt fairly, and they would have avoided a substantial payout.
A spokesperson from DWP said: “We take the welfare of our staff extremely seriously and also expect the highest standards of behaviour from all employees. We will be reviewing the tribunal’s findings”.
Employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace. The Equality Act recognises that ensuring equality for disabled people means changing the way employment is structured, removing physical barriers, and additional support. Reasonable adjustments are not expensive however, steps must be taken to remove obstacles a disabled worker or job applicant may face. As demonstrated, failure to do so can result in an employee bringing a claim against their employer.
Occupational Health (OH) is a specialist branch of medicine that focuses on the mental and physical wellbeing of employees in the workplace. The service aims to prevent work-related illness and inquiry through:
If you need any advice or have any questions regarding reasonable adjustments or seeking medical expert advice, please contact a member of the HPC team:
T: 0844 800 5932