£4.5 million award for dismissal during probationary period

13 June 2024

The recent case of Wright-Turner v London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and another is of interest for a number of reasons and is a reminder to all employers that dismissing an employee during a probationary period is not risk free. It also highlights the importance of understanding and supporting neurodivergent employees. Please find the slides from the Neurodiversity Awareness workshop that was at the 2024 Annual Conference at this link.

Of interest in this case is the significant award the employee received and that fact that the employee had only been employed for a total of 9 months. As the claim related to disability discrimination the employee did not need to have two year continuous service and the compensation award for discrimination claims is uncapped.

The employee was in a senior role and part of the Leadership Team and had ADHD and PTSD and was treated unfairly and unreasonably during their probation period which resulted in their dismissal.

Key points regarding the case were:

  • Prior to joining the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham the employee had had a successful career as a senior civil servant.
  • During the probation period the employee’s physical and mental health deteriorated, all the while she was working extremely long hours and was clearly stressed.
  • Her line manager's perception of her was impacted by her finding out that the claimant had ADHD.
  • Shortly before the end of her probationary period the claimant was invited to a meeting where her ADHD was discussed. Later that same day the employee had a panic attack and ended up in a traumatic state in A&E and was signed off work.
  • The employee’s probation was initially for 6 months but it was then extended by 3 months. During their period of employment the employee also submitted a grievance.
  • The employee’s dismissal coincided with the end of the extended probation period.

The employment tribunal considered the evidence and found that;

  • The employer had falsified two letters. The first by back dating a letter extending the employee’s probation period to make it look like it had been written before the probation period had expired. As well as the letter of dismissal to look like it had been written prior to the employee raising a grievance.
  • They also found that the employee had been harassed.
  • The extension of the probationary period and the dismissal both resulted in direct disability discrimination and discrimination arising from disability.
  • They also found that the employer had failed to reasonably comply with the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance procedures and failed to follow their own Probationary Procedure.

The claimant was a high earner with a good pension, but as detailed above she was treated particularly badly and it had a significant and detrimental impact on her health. The majority of the award was based on past and future loss of earnings (approximately £2 million).