Legal Update

Phone Call to Disabled Postman on Sick Leave Ruled an 'Act of Harassment'

Treating an employee on sick leave with distrust rather than sympathy is to positively invite Employment Tribunal (ET) proceedings. That was certainly so in the case of a disabled postman who was at home, suffering from work-related stress, when he received a harassing phone call from a senior manager (McCalam v Royal Mail Group Ltd).

The postman suffered from, amongst other things, anxiety and depression and his employer conceded that he was disabled. He had been on sick leave for four weeks when the manager phoned him. The manager asked him what was preventing him from working and what activities he was currently completing at home.

The manager accepted that his choice of words was clumsy. He asserted, however, that he was merely asking standard questions and was intent on offering support to the postman with a view to understanding what types of activities he was able to perform at home.

In finding that the phone call amounted to an act of harassment related to the postman's disability, however, the ET noted that his employer was in possession of his sick notes which identified stress at work as the cause of his absence. It had knowledge that he was suffering some form of mental health problem and the manager ought to have been aware of the likelihood that he had a mental health disability.

Observing that an act of harassment need not be deliberate, the ET found that the manager's ill-considered question relating to his activities at home was redolent with distrust. It implied that he was fit to carry out activities notwithstanding his absence from work through illness. The question violated the postman's dignity and created a hostile, humiliating or offensive environment for him. The amount of the postman's compensation would be assessed at a further hearing, if not agreed. His other complaints against his employer were rejected.

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