Dismissal after cancer treatment means a £90k win for NatWest executive

After being dismissed just days after undergoing surgery for cancer, a NatWest executive has been awarded £90,000 in compensation.

The first claim Adeline Willis made against the bank in February 2022 was described as ‘being tainted with discrimination.’ Although Adeline won the claim for unfair dismissal, the claim for disability discrimination was only partially successful.

After her previous role in the company had been made redundant, Ms Willis worked as a senior risk and compliance professional. She had been seconded to the job in operational continuity after the redundancy of the previous position.

The secondment was based in Edinburgh while Ms Wellis lived in London. Ms Willis stated that she was led to believe that the role would be relocated although approval has yet to be sought. 

After Ms Willis was diagnosed with colon cancer in August 2019, she discussed with her manager the possibility of working at home on the days when she needed hospital scans and treatment.

At this time, her line manager was changed. The tribunal noted this change as unfavourable treatment.

After the change Ms Willis was told that she needed daily chemotherapy and radiotherapy, with an operation scheduled in early 2020. She informed her line manager about this treatment.

The tribunal was told that her manager sought advice from the HR department regarding terminating her secondment early as her work was ‘too critical.’

After her treatment when Ms Willis joined a weekly meeting from home, she was told by her line manager that she was ‘not needed.’ NatWest claimed that this was a move which was meant to be supportive and help to reduce her workload. Instead, Ms Willis told the tribunal that she felt humiliated.

Just before her scheduled operation Ms Willis asked for an extension to her secondment as a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act. Her former line manager told her that she should not be looking for other roles and the extension was ‘ridiculous.’

At the end of year Ms Willis was not given her review and she subsequently received her lowest ever bonus from NatWest.

With her treatment continuing, the possibility of the extension of her secondment was discussed by HR. The HR team understood that there was ‘no role after the end of the post’ because it was not expected that Ms Willis would ever return to work.

The company did, however, give Ms Willis a one-month extension on compassionate grounds but they then informed her that on April 4th her employment would end with the bank.

While she was recuperating from her surgery Ms Willis started to look for other roles within the company but was not successful. Her employment was finally terminated on April 4th, and she received an enhanced redundancy payment.

The court said, when deciding on appropriate compensation, that it was satisfied that Ms Willis was ‘extremely hurt’ by actions of the bank which the tribunal found to be discriminatory.

The court awarded Ms Willis in the middle of the top band (£35,000) for injury to feelings. The total amount she was awarded was £87,699.84 which included loss of earnings.

A NatWest spokesperson stated that they were sorry for the things that the bank did not get right. The bank also apologised for the areas where they fell short of the standards their colleagues expect.

NatWest stated that they recognised the extremely difficult personal circumstances in this instance, and they have taken steps to ensure that it would not happen again.


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