£160,000 settlement in Northern Ireland disability discrimination case

£160,000 settlement in Northern Ireland disability discrimination case

Geraldine McGahey

A sales advisor has settled his disability discrimination case against his former employer, Telefonica Ltd, for £160,000 with support from the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.

Eamon Bowen worked in an O2 store for a number of years. In 2014, he was diagnosed with Spondylolisthesis, a degenerative disc disease which causes him chronic pain, exhaustion, sleep and mobility issues.

Due to his health condition, Mr Bowen had to take periods of sick leave. These were followed by referrals to Occupational Health, who made various recommendations to help him back to work. Mr Bowen was keen to work, he managed his condition and worked from home during the pandemic.

Mr Bowen returned to work in-store following lockdown in June 2020. However, he found this difficult as he spent most of his working day on his feet.

Mr Bowen took more sick leave which led to further referrals to Occupational Health. They again made recommendations to help him work including a phased return to work, reduced working hours and use of a support chair on the shop floor.

However, Mr Bowen says the recommendations weren’t implemented appropriately.

He made repeated efforts to discuss Occupational Health’s recommendations with his employer. In the end he felt he had no option but to submit his resignation and left his job in November 2021.

Geraldine McGahey, chief commissioner at the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, said: “This case was settled for a significant amount of money and the company has lost an experienced employee.

“It is essential that employers carefully consider all recommendations made by Occupational Health and communicate with the person with a disability to ensure they understand their needs. It’s also important that all staff, particularly line managers, know that the law says reasonable adjustments have to be considered.”

In settling the case, Telefonica acknowledged and apologised to Mr Bowen for the significant upset, distress and injury to feelings that he experienced.

The company also affirmed its commitment to the principles of equality in employment and to ensuring that they comply with equality law. It has agreed to work with the Commission to review the policies, practices and procedures. The case was settled with no admission of liability.

An O2 spokesperson said: “As one of the UK’s largest businesses with a broad and diverse workforce, we have a range of measures in place to support employees who have a disability or specific needs, such as making layout changes for wheelchair users, hiring sign language interpreters for employees with hearing difficulties, and providing specialist equipment where appropriate.

“We have apologised to Mr Bowen for any distressed caused in this case, and we are pleased to have mutually reached a settlement.”

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