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After accidentally locking customer in branch, diabetic bank manager is discriminated against

An employment tribunal ruled that a bank manager who accidentally locked someone in the branch was discriminated against on grounds of disability.

Mr Kuppala who worked for HBOS at a Halifax branch in Oxford Circus has type II Diabetes. Because his condition was so severe it was considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010.

The diabetes was brought on by stress, poor diet and irregular breaks. Mr Kuppala was first diagnosed with the condition in 2017. He did not at first inform HBOS because he feared it would affect him remaining in his position after a forthcoming restructure.

Due to the closure of several other Halifax branches in the vicinity, Mr Kuppala found himself laden with staffing issues and often did not have time to take a break. He needed the regular breaks to keep his Diabetes under control.

When not controlling his Diabetes Mr Kuppala felt weak, shaky, hungry, confused and lethargic. These feelings often affected his ability to focus at work, and concentration was increasingly difficult.

Mr Kuppala had previously been referred to a mental health clinic due to work-related stress. The company had been made aware of this.

In April 2018 Mr Kuppala was informed that in the upcoming restructure he had not been allocated a role and although he had not formally been informed of redundancy, he did think it was a possibility.

In May 2018 Mr Kuppala accidentally locked a customer in the branch for three hours after he had to leave the office for an emergency appointment. He informed the tribunal that there were other staff in the branch, but he did not make it clear to them that there was still a customer in the room.

A review of CCTV footage and an investigation showed several other security concerns. On other occasions Mr Kuppala had left keys unattended. He had also let a customer into the branch after closing time and had left the keys in the door while doing this. Mr Kuppala had failed on several occasions to check all rooms for customers or packages.

After a disciplinary process found that he had breached security protocol relating to closing procedures Mr Kuppala was dismissed for gross misconduct. The final security checks were always carried out by the last colleague to leave the premises.

In a statement from the company it was noted that while his health had been affected and he was increasingly stressed by the extra customers, this should not have affected security protocols which were completed several times a week.

Mr Kuppala unsuccessfully appealed against the decision and claimed that he had been treated harshly compared to other colleagues who had had similar issues happen to them. He also stated that the manager who listened to his appeal had not considered the way stress had affected his health.

Tribunal judge Jill Brown ruled that the decision to dismiss Mr Kuppala had been unfair. Because they had allowed him to continue working in a position of responsibility while they were investigating the issue, they had obviously not taken his actions as serious. Further, because Mr Kuppala had informed the company of his Diabetes and the effect it had on his work duties, they should have taken his condition into consideration.

Judge Brown ruled that the company had not shown that dismissing a long-standing disabled employee was the right decision. No final written warnings were given and no referral to occupational health was issued. This would have been the correct management of Mr Kuppala’s health problems.

The tribunal ordered HBOS to pay Mr Kuppala a sum of £49,457.11. This was compensation for loss of earnings during the three months he would have worked before he was made redundant. Also included in the amount was compensation for injury to feelings.

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