In February 2017 it was reported that Nicola Sinclair (S), an English teacher who was previously employed by the Bishop of Llandaff Church in Wales High School had been awarded £346,000 in compensation. She had worked at the school for some years and in both 2012 and 2014 she had taken extended absences from work because she was suffering from mental health problems. Her employer had been fully aware of the circumstances, but on her return to work and following complaints she was asked to meet with the head teacher to discuss concerns.
During that meeting, the head teacher issued an ultimatum: resign immediately or face formal capability proceedings. It was a well-known fact that 90% of teachers who had previously been subject to capability proceedings had subsequently been dismissed, therefore S felt she had no option but to resign. Shortly thereafter, she had a breakdown and was sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1983.
At the tribunal she claimed constructive dismissal and disability discrimination. The tribunal noted that the school had been aware of S’s mental health problems and as a result of this they had a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to help her return to work. However, they had completely ignored their legal duty and had treated her with an ‘iron fist’. Furthermore, when the resign or else ultimatum was given this amounted to victimisation and bullying which the tribunal concluded directly caused S’s breakdown and ultimately handed her a constructive dismissal claim on a plate.
What did it do wrong and how should it have approached the matter?
1. Employees must never be put under any pressure to resign. Whilst their departure may be the best option for all involved, the termination of employment must either be voluntary or negotiated.
2. Where concerns are raised about performance, first deal with the problem informally and always consider what support and reasonable adjustments may be necessary.
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