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Employee excluded from WhatsApp chat wins £130,000

A long-term sick employee who was excluded from his employer’s WhatsApp group chat has been awarded £130,000 compensation by the tribunal.

Facts

Back problems

Mark Brosnan (B) began working for Coalo (C) as a plumber in 2016. In 2019, B started to have lower back problems which led to him taking 15 days’ sick leave in early 2020.

C asked B to attend an absence meeting and an occupational health (OH) assessment. OH made various recommendations to assist B and indicated that he could return to work in two to three weeks.

No adjustments

Despite knowing about them, C did not implement any of the OH recommendations. In April 2021, B sustained another back injury. This caused B extreme pain and he took more time off work.

C asked B to attend another absence meeting in July 2021, but this was delayed when B raised a formal grievance about C’s failure to implement the OH recommendations.

Grievance meeting

During a formal grievance meeting in August 2021, B said that a manager told him that he’d been excluded from a WhatsApp group chat where 'important information health and safety information was communicated to employees' directly because of his sickness absence.

B resigned in December 2021 because he had been denied full sick pay to which he was entitled, and C had not formally responded to the grievance.

Tribunal claims

B claimed disability discrimination, disability-related victimisation and constructive unfair dismissal.

All of the claims succeeded. In September 2023 a tribunal awarded B over £130,000 after the judge found that excluding a long-term sick employee from a work-related group chat can amount to disability discrimination.

What can we learn?

This decision does not oblige employers to automatically include any employee who is on long-term sick leave in workplace communications and discussions.

You may exclude employees from workplace communications and discussions during sickness absence if such contact risks exacerbating their condition.

Agree with the sick employee what level of communication they would like to have over workplace matters. Some will not want to hear from you, while others may feel excluded, isolated or even depressed if they are not included in workplace issues and updates while they recuperate.

During your first welfare meeting agree how often you will contact your employee, by what method and how often. Review this agreement if their sickness absence continues.

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