12 December 2018
I used to work in Further Education, in an admin/customer service role. I had one impairment when I joined and developed others over time. I disclosed these to the employer, who seemed to have good disability/equality policies - on paper at least. I experienced several issues, including bullying. I will discuss the main ones. The first issue was to do with a change in working hours, for the team I worked in. I knew this could have a negative impact on my health, so I discussed it with the employer. I tried to make a request for reasonable adjustments and the Senior manager asked me if I was sure I wanted to identify as disabled as it would hold me back in my career! I was more naive back then, so I just dropped the issue, rather than 'rock the boat'. Over the years, other matters arose. One of the worst was the employer accusing me of being late when I wasn't (we used to clock in and out and the line manager wasn't interested when I tried to show her a print out of my hours - my time-keeping was one of the best). Connected to this was when I also got into huge trouble for using the toilet at certain times of day - despite having disclosed a condition that can affect this and the employer had not raised it as an issue for three years. Part of the problem was that I had the misfortune to work when the service was under-staffed, so if I needed to step away, there was no-one to serve the public and it was (for me at least) the golden rule not to leave the desk unattended. When I did so, it was handled as me taking unofficial breaks, doing a disservice to colleagues/the public and also not fulfilling the terms of my contract. The employer said they could not continue to allow me to use the toilet when needed, unless I went to Occupational Health, which I did. The OH professor completely agreed with me and wrote to the employer advising them to allow me to use the toilet when needed, as a reasonable adjustment. The employer refused, saying they were not bound by the OH recommendations. Over the years there were other matters; e.g health & safety, my being given a disciplinary for being off sick and unfair delegation of work. The team had a poor reputation in the FE college and I was seen as a soft target for management to be seen to be making an effort to improve things and so, more and more was expected of me. This is in the context of my being highly efficient & getting some of the best feedback from the public, while working in a team where skiving and incompetence were rife. As bizarre as it sounds, the lesser-efficient employees were favoured by management and their behaviour went largely unchallenged. More often when not, when managers had an issue they wanted to bring to my attention, they would do so in the open-plan office, in front of colleagues/the public and often with two or three managers against one. They never treated anyone else like that. All this took a huge toll on my health and my absence level rose, culminating in my being made redundant.
Over the years, I started to speak up for myself - always politely and where necessary in writing. I often had to point out the unfairness in how I was being treated and the work-expectations made of me, in comparison to the tolerances afforded to colleagues. (It was not my work ethic to 'skive', or to say nothing while tax-payers money was wasted on paying salaries to people who did not give good value for money). I suspect the employer came to view me as a trouble-maker - which was unfair; I only raised things in response to how I was being treated. I also joined one of the major public sector/education Unions, but they did very little to help me. I called on them time and time again and while in principle they agreed with me, when it came to meetings or letters/reports, I was on my own. In regards the redundancy, this was unfair and discriminatory - they used to discount disability-related absences by 100%, but for the redundancies I was involved, in, it was reduced to only a 50% discount. They also refused, without explanation, to consider my alternatives to redundancies and failed to offer suitable alternative roles. I decided to go to tribunal - initially being told by the Union that they would support me, but they then dropped my case at the 11th hour. I had already submitted the ET1 form, and I didn't want to drop my case at the last minute, so I used my savings to hire a lawyer, as I was told legal aid no longer covered employment disputes. The employer used dirty tactics like not meeting deadlines & refusing to disclose information and the lawyer wasn't very good at keeping on top of this. Again, I was in the position of doing all the paperwork, which was exhausting.
The unfairness and injustice of it all nearly ruined me. I started developing additional health problems like insomnia and heart palpitations. It has stayed with me for years and still bothers me. Fairness is very important to me and the wrongness of it all gnaws away at your insides. I wish I had never set foot in that place. (Nb - it was a publicly funded college - supposedly a place of learning and a beacon of equality. The mind boggles!)
The outcome was that I lost my job and my tribunal failed on all counts. The toll on me has been huge and I can no longer work full time. My subsequent jobs have all been temporary, part time and for less pro-rata wages, so now i am much worse off financially. I am glad to not to be working there now. I hear things have gotten even worse at that college and many long-standing staff have been made redundant, though not in the team where I worked and where skiving was the 'rule of thumb'.
I must say that I found the tribunal process to be biased in favour of the employer. For example, they were allowed to hand in last-minute documents that I was not provided with in advance and they were allowed to make reference to documents that they did not provide at all. When the tribunal thought (wrongly) that I had made reference to documents I had not provided, I was nearly given a cost order to pay the respondent's fees! On top of that, the Judge accepted as fact several unsupported things that the employer said - even when I had provided written evidence to the contrary. (For example, written proof confirming that the employer had retained agency / temporary staff (at a greater hourly cost) while making me redundant from the exact same role. This relates to the question of whether there was a genuine need for redundancy. I have come to conclude that the Equality Act 2010 is meaningless unless it is properly enforced and people such as myself who don't have the means to hire the best legal minds will never get just treatment. The old adage that only the rich get justice is very true indeed. To try and end on a positive note, some of the jobs I have done since leaving the FE sector have been with disability orgs/charities and it was like an eye-opener for me. I no longer have to get permission to use the toilet or have to justify every minute of the working day. I am no longer ashamed of being disabled or of needing adjustments.
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