Employee on Sick Leave for 15 Years Sues Employer Over Pay Rise

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employee sues IBM over pay hike
Photo Credits: Carson Masterson via Unsplash

In a recent case, a senior IT worker who had been working with IBM for 15 years sued them because he was not offered a pay rise. Ian Clifford, a senior IT worker, claimed he had been a victim of disability discrimination by IBM as his salary had not changed since he went on sick leave 15 years ago.

Pay Rise: What Exactly Happened?

Mr Ian Clifford started working for Lotus Development UK Ltd in 2000 and then in 2001, he was transferred to IBM when the company acquired Lotus. In September 2008, Mr Clifford went on sick leave and remained off work until 2013.

During this five-year period, Mr Clifford complained that he had not received holiday pay and was not given a pay hike. According to him, the terms of his Lotus employee benefits had been transferred when he moved to IBM and he was demanding what was entitled to him.

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As a result, the company and Mr Clifford reached a “compromise agreement” where his complaints were settled. The new agreement also stated that he would not raise any further grievances relating to the matter. His new salary was settled at £72,037.44 per annum where he would be paid 75% of that salary until he retired or ceased to be on the plan.

Additionally, he would remain an active member of his pension fund. He was also paid an additional £8685.60 to settle the claims relating to the holiday pay. However, in February 2022, Mr Clifford took IBM to an employment tribunal, claiming that he was a victim of disability discrimination.

He told the tribunal he was treated unfairly as he had not received a salary increase or holiday entitlement since 2013. Moreover, with inflation at over 10%, Mr Clifford believed that his salary was not “generous enough” and that the money will wither away soon because of other payments. He also mentioned that the point of the benefit plan was to secure the employees who can’t work which won’t be possible if they don’t increase it.

What The Employment Tribunal Said

The case was presented virtually to an employment tribunal in Reading before Judge Paul Housego, who dismissed the case on various grounds. 

Regarding the compromise agreement, Judge Housego said it was a detailed negotiation, but the whole point was to settle dispute matters permanently, given the amount that was paid to settle a holiday pay dispute.  He also pointed out that the company agreed to pay the reduced salary which at the point of Mr Clifford’s retirement amounted to more than £1.5 million.

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As far as disability discrimination goes, Judge Housego said there was no discrimination that occurred. This is because disability discrimination only occurs when a disabled person is treated less favourably as opposed to someone who isn’t disabled. And the comparison to someone who is not disabled is not valid because the sickness plan would not benefit them as no one would be paid 75% of their income without having worked a day unless they are severely disabled.

Judge Housego further added, “Active employees may get pay raises, but inactive employees do not”. To Mr Clifford’s point regarding inflation, Judge Housego said that considering the value of £50,000 reduced to half in the coming years, it is still a considerable amount of money. However, the takeaway from this is that Mr Clifford being on the plan because of being disabled is not less favourable but in fact, more favourable as active employees cannot be transferred to the benefits plan.

Hence, Judge Housego dismissed all claims.

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