‘Disability confident’ DWP acted ‘perversely’ in sacking of disabled woman, court says


The government’s meaningless Disability Confident campaign.

The Guardian reports that a disabled woman was discriminated against when she was unfairly sacked by the Department for Work and Pensions, which behaved in a “perverse” and “blinkered” manner, a judge has found. 

Isabella Valentine was employed by the DWP on a programme designed to get vulnerable, long-term unemployed people back into work by nurturing and training apprentices over a 12-month period, bringing them to a point where they could apply for jobs in the usual way. Instead, “inexplicable and strange” disciplinary measures were taken by the DWP after just four days’ sickness that led to Valentine’s dismissal. 

“I suffer regular migraines that are so severe and unpredictable that I am officially classed as disabled. Because of that and a lack of qualifications, I haven’t been able to find decent employment,” said Valentine.

“When I was handpicked for this programme, I was so happy. I hoped that I had finally found employers who would let me do a good job while being understanding of the time off I sometimes have to take because of my migraines. 

“Instead, I was made to feel small and so stressed that my migraines got even worse. Not only were no reasonable adjustments made for my disability as legally required but I was subject to the same strict and unbending rules that permanent employees had to work by.” 

She added: “My manager started harassing me on the first day I took off sick because of a migraine. By the fourth day, the department had started disciplinary proceedings and decided to dismiss me. Which it then did.” 

In his judgment, the employment judge, Robin Postle, said: “[Valentine’s treatment] does beg the question, why, given the nature of why the claimant was put on the course, to try and get her back into the workplace, the [DWP] did not make reasonable adjustments [under the Equality Act 2010], in disregarding migraine absences, or indeed, simply taking no further action. The claimant has suffered unfavourable treatment and she had a disability.” 

The DWP has been taken to the employment tribunal by staff almost 60 times over claims of disability discrimination in a 20-month period. The DWP, which has about 75,000 staff, has the worst record on disability discrimination of any large government department with 57 cases, compared with 20 cases against the Home Office (which has about 30,000 staff), 32 against the Ministry of Justice (about 70,000 staff) and 29 against HM Revenue and Customs (about 60,000 staff). 

The number of allegations made by disabled staff is surprising because the DWP is responsible for the much-criticised Disability Confident scheme, which aims to help employers recruit and retain disabled employees. DWP claims to be a Disability Confident leader”, the highest of the scheme’s three levels. 

Valentine’s manager was told she would require extra support and leeway to enable her to complete the course. The Suffolk Law Centre solicitor Carol Ward fought the case as part of the National Lottery Reaching Communities-funded project Tackling Discrimination in the East, said: “The behaviour of the DWP was particularly inexplicable and strange because the whole point of the course was to help the apprentices who struggled to cope in the workplace. 

“The claimant had been personally chosen by a DWP work coach. The scheme specifically said apprentices would need nurturing and support, and that they weren’t expected to contribute to the business in the same way as those recruited in the usual way. But as soon as she hit the four-day absence trigger, disciplinary procedures were started.” 

The behaviour of Valentine’s managers was, the judge found, “frankly perverse”. Meetings with Valentine were frequently misrepresented in “clearly incorrect” letters sent by her direct manager. 

Instead of exercising the discretion available to her, the same manager “slavishly followed the policy in a blinkered manner”, while a second manager “had a closed mind”. A third manager who conducted Valentine’s appeal failed to do basic checks on the considerable leeway that had been granted to many other apprentices on the same course.

The consequence was a “predetermined decision” to dismiss Valentine before she had even returned from her second period of sick leave. 

“This was particularly surprising given the fact that [one of the managers said] it became clear very quickly that this was a group of people who needed a lot of support as they were not used to the working environment and needed support to help them cope,” said the judge. 

The DWP said: “We accept this decision. Our general approach is a supportive one – we provide employees with free access to counselling, health advice, physiotherapy and workplace adjustments to manage absences, and we do not dismiss staff without proper consideration and taking professional advice.”

The evidence strongly suggests otherwise. 


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6 thoughts on “‘Disability confident’ DWP acted ‘perversely’ in sacking of disabled woman, court says

  1. This has been going on for years. A similar thing happened to a friend of mine about 7 years ago. They are ferocious. He even got a verbal warning for being 15 seconds late back to his desk after a break. I have no idea how anyone manages to work there and remain human!


  2. In 2005, I was dismissed by Mind for taking too much time off for depression & anxiety.. A few months previous to this, they had deducted £900 from a month’s wages for “overpayment of sick pay” without discussing it with me first.. No consideration was taken for the impact this would have on my mental health or on my finances & I was given no opportunity to arrange a sensible repayment plan.. The first I knew of it was when I was handed my wage slip.. I had only just returned to work from being off sick (due to a family bereavement, which had triggered a breakdown).. When I raised this in a meeting with them, the Finance Officer said (& I quote): “Well, you’ve just had a holiday in Cyprus, so you can’t be that destitute.”!! I told her that her comment was inappropriate, was outside of her remit, & whether I had been on holiday or not was none of her business! (This holiday had actually been paid for by my Mum because I was grieving over my Grandfather’s death, & she thought a week of sun & relaxation with my daughter would help me.) I raise this because the news about the DWP does not surprise me in the slightest.. If a Mental Health Charity like Mind can treat an employee with a Mental Health problem like this, it’s no great shock that a Government department, which seems hellbent on eliminating their welfare, would do likewise!
    In the end, Mind did me a huge favour.. I would have lost my job eventually because they had all, bar one, of their contracts for providing Mental Health Services in my local area terminated.. Maybe there’s hope that Karma will deal with the Selfservatives & the DWP too!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. They sacked my husband for being sick too – long term mental health problems, yet he only had the odd day off at a time. He was supposed to have extra days but they took that away, occupational health had consistently said how well he was doing, and after he was sacked he had an appointment through for an occupational health assessment. He knew he was already training his replacement before he left. The whole culture changed when the coalition came in, and all they wanted was robots to read a script. Quite frankly he was too caring to be able to cope, and was glad to go.

    Liked by 1 person

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