We recently acted on behalf of a terminally ill cancer patient who was dismissed without consultation, in a case which should act as a warning to other employers.
Clive Golledge, 47, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in May 2011. The father of two, who worked for a publishing company as a national sales manager, had been given a prognosis of three years by his doctors.
Mr Golledge had very little time off work due to his illness apart from when he was hospitalised for a few days in May 2012. In early July 2012, his employer, which supplies calendars to large retailers, told him that the premium on their private health insurance had increased as a direct result of his treatment. An email was sent to all staff two weeks later, explaining the company’s health insurance scheme had been cancelled.
Dismissed without consultation
Four days after this email, in late July 2012, Mr Golledge of Wolsingham was dismissed without consultation taking place. This resulted in him being informed that he would no longer be eligible to be covered by his employer’s death in service benefit scheme which would pay four times his annual salary to his children. He was relying on this substantial amount of money to provide some security for his family upon his death.
In a bid to remain an eligible member of the death in service benefit scheme, Mr Golledge asked his employer to consider other options such as allowing him to take long term sick leave, but these options were declined.
A case for discrimination
After he was dismissed, Mr Golledge instructed Muckle LLP to act on his behalf in bringing proceedings against his former employer for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination for failure to consult with him and for failure to consider making reasonable adjustments on the grounds of his status as a disabled person for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. He believed he had been subject to direct discrimination because of his ill health.
Mr Golledge’s health deteriorated unexpectedly just before Christmas and he was rushed to hospital. He didn’t leave hospital again and sadly died from respiratory failure on December 20. Afterwards his brother, Brett, and his sister, Michelle, proceeded with the case in their capacity as personal representatives of Mr Golledge’s estate.
The case was due to be heard at the Newcastle upon Tyne Employment Tribunal over a period of four days but on the morning of the first day the employer’s insurers settled the claim, paying the full £228,000 death in service entitlement to Mr Golledge’s children. The employer also paid a further £22,000 to settle other claims and to contribute towards Mr Golledge’s legal costs.
Helping to provide security for the family
When asked to comment on the result, Mr Golledge’s family said: “Clive was an amazing, caring and funny person. He coped with his cancer diagnosis and the eventuality of it in such an amazing way. He was highly conscientious and worked all the way through his treatment. He always had hope. It’s a shame he is not here to know that the team at Muckle helped to achieve what he was seeking – providing financial security for his children.”
Paul Johnstone, partner in Muckle LLP’s Employment Team, said: “We are very pleased with the outcome of this case for Mr Golledge’s family although we were all very saddened that Clive’s health deteriorated so rapidly. This meant we were unable to achieve this excellent result before he died.”
Mr Golledge’s concern about losing his death in service benefit created additional undue stress at an incredibly difficult time when he and his family were already under immense pressure.
Lesson for employers
There are important lessons to be learned from this case; employers must not disregard good employee relations procedures. They should make reasonable adjustments to help disabled employees, who are terminally ill, to maintain the employment benefits that they and their families are legitimately entitled to receive – particularly where an employee may no longer be fit enough to continue working.
Dismissal ought not to be an automatic response in such a situation. There may be a lot that an employer can do to ensure that it acts in accordance with its legal duties under the Equality Act 2010. It is extremely important to communicate and consult with the employee and medical and legal advisers to deal with each situation in a fair, reasonable and sensitive manner.
If it had not been for the last minute intervention of the insurer, the full value of the claim (in total almost £250,000) could have been awarded against not only the ex-employer but also against the owners and directors personally. Liability for discrimination claims is joint and several. Directors and owners of businesses need to be aware of how their line managers deal with situations involving the termination of employment of employees who are disabled and protected by the Equality Act.”
For more information about how we could help your organisation in employment matters, please telephone 0191 211 7777 or email [email protected].