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CHAUDHRI: Asking for accommodations at work can lead to mistreatment

A British human rights case is chock full of lessons for employers

Documents about workplace harassment in a court.
Documents about workplace harassment in a court. Photo by designer491 /iStock / Getty Images

Taboo topics go well beyond politics and religion, especially in the workplace.

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More often than not, employees steer clear of oversharing self-limiting or vulnerable information at work, even at organizations with promises of “inclusive” workspaces.

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The reticence is not misguided. When employees lower their guards, and ask for accommodations, they can be isolated, mistreated, or even worse, fired.

Take the recent British human rights case of Karen Farquharson, a 49-year-old mother of two who sued her company for unfair dismissal and harassment.

Farquharson worked at Thistle Marine, an engineering firm since 1995, earning 38,000 euros a year.

In August 2021, Farquharson told her employer she was experiencing serious menopausal symptoms, including anxiety, bleeding, loss of concentration and brain fog.

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At the time, the company paid for her to have a private medical assessment.

In December 2022, Farquarson worked from home for two days, in part because she was ill due to her menopausal symptoms.

When she returned to the office the next day, she passed the owner of the organization Jim Clark. The evidence at her hearing was that Clark told her, “Oh, I see you’ve made it in,” in a sarcastic tone.

Farguharson mentioned her menopausal symptoms, including heavy bleeding, and the tribunal heard that Clark gave her a “disgusted look” and walked off.

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When Farquharson later confronted Clark about the exchange, the tribunal heard that he failed to acknowledge her menopausal symptoms and told her everybody has “aches and pains.” The tribunal also heard that Clark referred to employees who called in sick as “snowflakes.”

Farquarson wrote the company launching a grievance. Several days later, her remote access what cut off, removing her ability to work from home.

The employment tribunal of Scotland found in its decision that Clark’s remarks to Farquharson violated her dignity.

Not only was she awarded damages flowing from her termination, but the tribunal awarded Farqharson 10,000 euros for harassment.

In assessing Clark’s evidence, the tribunal stated: “We were left with the strong impression he was spoiling for an opportunity to have a ‘go’ at the claimant.”

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While this a case from over the pond, it is chock full of rather obvious lessons for employers.

Take medical accommodation requests seriously: Farqharson gave her employer various updates on her health, symptoms and how it impacted her work. But the employer took none of these opportunities to work together on ways to support her, which increased its liability.

Require management to report accommodation issues to HR: Had Clark, directed Farqharson to a different member of management, the outcome of this case could have been very different. Accommodation and medical-related issues should be managed by an assigned segment of your business.

Educate your management on your local human rights code: There are various human rights protections that employees are entitled to, but most members of management would have no idea what they are. In-house training will elevate the employee experience.

Have a workplace question? Maybe I could help! Email me at [email protected] and your question may be featured in a future column.

The content of this article is general information only and is not legal advice.

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