Visually impaired physio Mike Smith was devastated when he was dismissed for employing a support worker. The CSP’s legal team helped him win a £25,000 discrimination payout. Jo Carlowe reports
It should have been the start of an interesting placement in a new organisation for community physiotherapist, Mike Smith.* But when the visually impaired locum was dismissed within hours of starting work and without treating a single patient, he knew he had to speak out.
‘It was never about money,’ says Mike, who won a £25,000 out-of-court settlement, from the NHS organisation concerned. ‘It’s just I would hate anyone else to be made to feel the way I was made to feel. It was embarrassing – a second rate citizen doesn’t even cover it.’
Mike, an experienced community physiotherapist, is still reeling at his treatment. In January 2018, he relocated many miles from home to take a three month contract with an NHS organisation, with the possibility of ongoing work.
Mike has Stargardt Macular Degeneration (a genetic disorder that causes progressive vision loss). Since 2014 he has employed a support worker to drive him to work and input notes, under his supervision. The support worker is Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checked and fulfils annual online training including data protection. Until 2018, Mike had not experienced any problems with this arrangement. This was about to change.
The day began well enough. Mike’s line manager took him through the general orientation process, form-filling, reading company policy, the assigning of work schedules and the issue of an ID pass.
However, in the late afternoon a service manager came to advise him he’d been dismissed. She explained they were unhappy about Mike’s support worker writing up and inputting potentially sensitive data, such as patients’ notes.
‘I explained that my support worker is 100% my responsibility, I employ him, and he is DBS checked...I’m a competent physiotherapist. I do my work well. It’s never been an issue.’
But Mike’s comments cut no ice. As he left the building, Mike warned the employer: ‘You are clearly discriminating against me. You don’t have a clue what my performance is.
‘I was in total shock. Never in my life had anything like this happened to me,’ Mike said. He’d paid in advance for accommodation to cover his time away from home, but without work, he returned home at once.
‘I called the CSP because I didn’t know what to do. I was worried this would happen again and I’d not be able to work. My confidence was shattered and the wind was knocked out of me and I’m a guy with a thick skin.’
Warning to employers
The CSP took on Mike’s case, lodging a tribunal claim for disability discrimination. CSP senior negotiating officer Julie Collins explains: ‘A valuable benefit of CSP membership is a legal package which, in this case, allowed Mike access to a solicitor to support him in this claim. Had he not been a member it would have been up to him to recognise that he had a legal claim, get a solicitor to take the case, and to pay for any legal fees.’
As with all potential cases, Mike’s paperwork was passed to a firm of specialist employment lawyers to assess its merits. The CSP will only take on cases that lawyers feel will have a reasonable prospect of success. It was clear from the outset that the case was worth fighting.
‘I’ve never encountered anything as blatant as this,’ says Ms Collins.
In October 2018, the employer finally agreed to an out-of-court settlement of £25,000 to cover costs Mike incurred, loss of earnings and injury to feelings.
Julie Collins says the case should serve as a warning that the CSP will take robust action to support members. The case was settled out of court so there is no blame attributed or admission of liability by the organisation concerned. However, the compensation Mike Smith received is higher than the average award received in a successful disability claim. Mike’s lingering regret is he never received an apology.
‘I never got one but I’m glad the case is over. The main thing is that I don’t want this to happen to anybody else.’
*Not his real name
What to do if you are subject to discrimination
CSP senior negotiating officer, Julie Collins, says:
- Check the CSP’s Equality and Diversity toolkit
- Most NHS employers and some private companies have CSP stewards and/or safety reps who should be your first port of call. Local reps have access to CSP senior negotiating officers and specialist employment lawyers.
- If there isn’t a local rep or you don’t know who your local rep is, contact the CSP directly on: 0207 306 6666.
- If you are not a CSP member then join. Access to CSP local reps, full time staff and legal cover are part of the package.
- However cases will only be taken on if you were a member at the time of the incident.
Advice to staff and employers:
To avoid an allegation/action being taken against you:
- Ensure that you undertake relevant diversity training offered by your employer.
- Ensure you are familiar with relevant employment policies within your organisation and follow them consistently.
- Be proactive in creating a culture where diversity is celebrated.
- If you witness less favourable treatment of a colleague - challenge it if you feel able to do so, or take advice from your local reps about how to escalate your concerns.
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