Sales rep sacked by bookseller over depression awarded €18,000

Man whose wife had cancer ‘punished’ for revealing condition, commission finds

Book wholesaler action: The Workplace Relations Commission ordered the firm to pay the man approximately six months salary saying it punished him with dismissal in 2013 “for revealing the true nature of his condition” Photograph: iStock/Getty

Book wholesaler action: The Workplace Relations Commission ordered the firm to pay the man approximately six months salary saying it punished him with dismissal in 2013 “for revealing the true nature of his condition” Photograph: iStock/Getty

 

A sales representative at a book wholesaler has been awarded €18,000 after he was discriminated by his employer due to his depression.

The Workplace Relations Commission ordered the firm to pay the man approximately six months salary saying it punished him with dismissal in 2013 “for revealing the true nature of his condition”.

The man had worked as a sales rep for the main bookseller in Ireland for 30 years until he was made redundant in December 2012. His salary before his redundancy had been €80,000.

He approached a UK-based company – the largest wholesaler of books in Europe – which did not at that time employ anyone else in Ireland, in March 2013 and was given a sales rep job on a salary of £30,000.

The commission hearing in February was told the complainant took sick leave on May 13th, 2013, for a week and provided a medical certificate stating that he was suffering from stress. He sent a text to his line manager to say he was feeling unwell and that he would be back at work the following Monday.

The following day, the personnel manager phoned him to discuss his absence. He explained that he was distressed as his wife had recently been diagnosed with cancer, a fact he had mentioned during his interview for the position.

Medication

The complainant said the personnel manager asked him what medication he was on and he thought it was a strange question for her to ask.

He took no more sick leave, but did take holidays in Ireland the following June. During that period, he realised he had lost his work laptop and he reported this to his employer a week later and also the local Garda station.

In its submission, the company submitted that the man had received full induction training in the UK and had received an email containing the employee handbook which was never opened. He had also not signed his contract of employment.

It also insisted there were performance issues that pre-dated his sick leave.

Equality officer Orlaith Mannion said in her decision that the man would be the first to admit that “attention to detail was not his strong point”.

She said that he should, of course, have notified his employer on the first day of his sick leave but she noted he felt so unwell that he had asked to be admitted to the psychiatric unit of his local hospital.

“As a new employee, I would not have been surprised had the complainant lied or minimised his condition (especially when there is such a stigma about mental ill health), but the complainant told the personnel manager the full truth that his stress and anxiety were symptoms of his reactive depression,” Ms Mannion wrote.

“From then on, I accept the complainant’s contention that he was branded by the respondent as a problematic employee.”

‘Invasion of privacy’

Ms Mannion said she was “troubled” by the personnel manager’s request to know exactly what medication he was taking.

“To me, this request is an invasion of his privacy.”

Ms Mannion said the company “drove a coach and horses through fair procedures”.

“While the respondent did not use the phrase ‘dismissal for incapacity’, in reality that is what it was.”

“There is a particular stigma about psychiatric conditions in the workplace and regrettably the complainant was punished by the respondent for revealing the true nature of his condition,” she found.

Ms Mannion found the company had discriminatorily dismissed the employee on the ground of disability under section 79(6) of the Employment Equality Acts and awarded him €18,000.