Driscoll v News International – Employment Tribunal
It has been reported in the press that a former sports reporter for the News of the World has been awarded the significant sum of £792,736 for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination. This follows a 'consistent pattern of bullying behaviour' from his employer.
Mr Driscoll was dismissed by his employer whilst on sick leave resulting from stress-related depression. The Tribunal found that the employer's treatment of him had caused this depression. Before going on sick leave in July 2006, Mr Driscoll was subject to disciplinary proceedings and issued with formal warnings over alleged inaccuracies in his reporting and for failing to be punctual on one occasion. The Tribunal found that these warnings were merely a pretext and that the real reason for the disciplinary proceedings was that the newspaper's former editor, Andy Coulson, merely wanted to 'get shot' of Mr Driscoll.
The Tribunal also found that the bullying continued after Mr Driscoll went on sick leave. He received a deluge of emails, phone calls and visits to his home from senior management, demanding him to see a company doctor, despite his own GP advising him to 'distance' himself from the source of his stress.
Mr Driscoll qualified for protection under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 ('DDA') as a result of his stress-related illness and depression. Such conditions can constitute a disability under the DDA if it is a mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
The Tribunal emphasised that they found it "striking" that at no point in time did the News of the World give consideration to the question of whether or not Mr Driscoll might be disabled whilst he was employed by them. It added that "an even more striking omission on the part of the Respondent is that we were informed they do not have any policy on disability. For a large employer such as the Respondent, this is a significant failure to comply with guidance given in the Disability Rights Commission's Code of Practice at paragraph 2.12".
What does this mean for you?
The Judgment in this case highlights the need for extra care to be taken by employers when dealing with alleged cases of stress and bullying. Employers must ensure that they take steps early on to identify and mitigate the effects caused by alleged stressors and deal with allegations of bullying promptly and effectively. Employers should also be mindful of the potential application of the DDA to such cases and of their duty to make reasonable adjustments.
We have previously commented that having in place up-to-date and robust policies dealing with equal opportunities matters is the starting point for building a successful equal opportunities practice and is likely to assist in reducing the likelihood of discrimination claims arising in the first place. As this Judgment highlights, it is useful when defending claims to refer to the fact that the employer has such documentation in place, which is often viewed by Tribunals as evidence that the employer takes equality and diversity issues seriously.