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Bullying complaints not addressed by Royal Mail - manager awarded £230K

After his complaints about discrimination and bullying at Royal Mail were not addressed, a manager was awarded a £230K payment. Both discrimination and bullying contributed to a decline in the claimant’s mental health and subsequent dismissal.

Mr Shunmugaraja, working as area manager at the Cardiff Centre of Royal Mail says he was called a ‘dog.’ He was also incorrectly labelled as Muslim where in fact he is of the Hindu faith. The tribunal ruled that these accusations were acts of discrimination.

During June 2017 Mr Shunmugaraja instructed a worker to carry out certain tasks. The worker refused and called him a ‘sly dog.’ This slur left Mr Shunmugaraja upset. He was in fact, so upset that he had to leave the meeting right away.

After telling the tribunal that he found the phrase deeply offensive, the tribunal agreed with him, stating that the phrase could be perceived as an insult to many cultures. It could also have racial implications.

Another incident happened in August 2017 and involved an employee Mr Day. It took place outside the quiet room of the mail centre, which is often used as a place for prayers.

Although Mr Shunmugaraja had booked the room so that he could carry out a short training session, Mr Day, who is a Christian, became aggressive and challenged the use of the room.

Day suggested that they use the Muslim prayer room instead. The tribunal saw this as discrimination based on perceived religion.

After this incident Mr Shunmugaraja wrote a letter to his plant manager where he expressed concern about the aggressive behaviour of Mr Day, calling it a ‘very frightening experience.’

The claimant received no response to his letter and went on to contact the central HR section. He alleged that he had been harassed and bullied because of his religion.

Royal Mail employee relations case management team contacted Mr Shunmugaraja in October 2017. They stated that they would not accept complaints about bullying and harassment from managers against subordinates.

The management team went on to suggest that the claimant address the issue as a formal complaint matter.

Mr Shunmugaraja asked a colleague on the same grade as himself to investigate the complaint. His colleague felt that the investigation may not be impartial and asked an independent person to intervene. This request was ignored.

In November, the claimant became ill with sharp pains in his shoulders and neck area. His doctor attributed this to stress and anxiety caused by harassment and bullying in the workplace. The claimant was signed off on sick leave. Since August he had been taking anti-depressant tablets.

During December Mr Shunmugaraja was asked to attend a meeting with his late shift manager Mr Colclough and another colleague to talk about his recent illness and discuss his plans for returning to work.

The tribunal heard that at the meeting Mr Colclough seemed to be sympathetic to the situation. However, two days later the claimant received a letter from Mr Colclough to say that if he did not provide a reasonable explanation for his prolonged stress related absence, Mr Colclough would refuse to authorise any further sick pay.

If the claimant failed to do this his Royal Mail sick pay would be stopped with immediate effect.

The tribunal ruled that this letter was unlawfully discriminatory and an act of victimisation. The judgement stated that the letter was completely inappropriate because it was addressed to an employee who was ill with work-related stress.

On January 23rd, after his company and statutory sick pay had been stopped, Mr Shunmugaraja was dismissed.

Employment judge Laura Howden-Evans commented that from the very start, and the first act of discrimination Mr Shunmugaraja’s happiness at work was eroded and replaced by anxiety and distress.

The claimant told the tribunal that his dismissal had a profound impact on his life, causing him to be unable to pay his debts and therefore become homeless.

Because he had no fixed address he was unable to find alternative work and spent some time living with his mother in a rural part of India. This remained his situation until November 2020 when the remedy hearing took place.

The tribunal noted that Mr Shunmugaraja had taken great pleasure in the friendships he had formed at work. He was also proud of becoming a manager. For the last ten years he had worked at a job he loved and intended to remain there until he retired.

The tribunal awarded an amount for injury to feelings which fell into the top of the Vento band, namely £34,574.80 including interest.

Additionally, the tribunal ordered compensation for past losses and an amount for future losses, of £70,164.26 and £129,178.25.

The employment judge ordered Royal Mail to furnish the claimant with a written apology for dismissing him which would help with any new employment issues he would face.

The tribunal suggested that Royal Mail identify the obvious failings in their policies and procedures and seek union assistance when reviewing their training programmes which should centre around the Equality Act 2010.

The tribunal concluded by suggesting that Royal Mail introduce an ‘independent first point of contact’ regarding complaints about harassment and bullying, conduct and equality procedures. 

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