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On the spot firing of worker with cancer means a £2.5m pay-out

A senior worker who had cancer was awarded a payment of £2.5m after being dismissed on the spot. The employee was ruled by the employment tribunal to have been unfairly dismissed and treated unfavourably, along with being subjected to disability-related harassment.

Mr Barrow had worked for KBR, a multinational engineering, procurement, and construction company for 36 years. At the time of his dismissal, he was director of program management/project management and consulting.

After Mr Barrow started having issues with skin redness and itching which affected his performance at work he was, in November 2017, prescribed strong oral steroids to treat the skin condition.

The steroids affected his behaviour, making him energetic and hyperactive. He also started to find it difficult to sit quietly and focus on his work.

After a promotion Mr Barrow asked a question relating to data which had been entered on the firm’s system because he found a discrepancy in the paperwork he had received.

After the HR director suggested that he had been promoted to ‘make him look more senior compared to a colleague who was on a higher pay scale than he was’ Mr Barrow became angry.

He sent an email saying that he felt under-compensated and demotivated. He also felt disadvantaged and felt he had not been given a meaningful promotion for three years.

Some days later Mr Barrow talked to the HR director Mr Brettell, saying that his medication had an adverse effect on his overall well being and his response to some situations.

Mr Barrow went on to make an appointment with occupational health where it was agreed that he would take some time off work to allow the steroid levels in his body to reduce.

On his return to work, Mr Barrow was invited to attend a meeting with his line manager Mr Barrie. His work objectives were not discussed at this meeting and Mr Barrow later emailed his line manager to ask why not. Mr Barrie replied that he preferred ‘not to have a lengthy discussion via email.’

Mr Barrow was invited to attend another meeting with HR director Mr Rosbrook. It was at this meeting that Mr Barrow was informed that ‘KBR can no longer employ you.’ He was given 20 minutes to clear his desk before being escorted from the building.

Mr Barrow told his solicitor that at the time he was escorted from the building he was unsure as to whether he had been dismissed or suspended. He was also not aware of what the allegations were against him.

Mr Barrow’s solicitor told KBR in January that he had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Mr Barrow was unable to attend a further meeting in March 2018 because of health issues.

In May 2018 Mr Barrow received a letter formally dismissing him with immediate effect in lieu of notice.

The letter stated that the reason for his dismissal was because there had been a ‘breakdown of trust and confidence’ in him.

The tribunal found that the company could not sufficiently prove a breakdown in trust and confidence.

The judge ruled that Mr Barrie had wanted the claimant to leave and the only way this could be done rapidly was to ‘dress it up as a breakdown in trust and confidence.’

The dismissal had been unfair because there had never been a genuine attempt to investigate any claims. Neither was Mr Barrow allowed the opportunity to defend himself against allegations.

The tribunal further found that Mr Barrow had been treated unfavourably and suffered disability-related harassment.

The judge ordered KRB to pay Mr Barrow £2,567,831.96 which included £7,500 for aggravated damages.

A spokesperson from Didlaw, the firm defending Mr Barrow stated that the ruling was a victory for every sick and disabled employee in the UK. For people with serious health issues, it is hard enough to keep performance levels up without becoming involved in a long fight with an employer.

Karen Jackson, MD from Didlaw stated that there is always a right way and a wrong way to act in this type of situation. Making this award should send a clear message that employers can be held accountable for their actions.

Awarding aggravated damages is a rare occurrence and is the ‘cherry on the cake.’ This case should serve as a caution for other employers.

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