HMRC Worker Wins Harassment Case After Being Sent Repeated Emails and a Birthday Card During Sick Leave

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Photo Credits: Kate Macate via Unsplash

An HMRC worker has successfully brought claims of harassment related to race and disability against her employer. This is after Ms Toure, the employee, was contacted repeatedly and sent a birthday card whilst on sick leave, which was seen as unwanted.

Continue below to find out more about the facts of the case and the Employment Tribunal’s judgment.

What Exactly Happened?

HMRC Worker Raises Concerns About Discrimination Because of Her Accent

Ms Toure is a French national of African origin and a Muslim. She commenced employment with the HMRC in 2019 as a customer service consultant.

In 2020, after experiencing difficulties with claiming utility expenses whilst working from home, the HMRC worker raised concerns about feeling discriminated against because of her “foreign accent and origin”. These complaints appear to have been ignored.

The Birthday Card Incident

Hugh Henderson, Ms Toure’s manager, maintained a list of birthdays of the employees in his team. In August 2020, Mr Henderson wished Ms Toure a happy birthday during a meeting on the date in question. The following day, the HMRC worker contacted Mr Henderson to request that her birthday be removed from his list as she preferred not to celebrate for personal reasons.

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Open Up About Harassment Incidents

In September 2020, Ms Toure complained that she was being left out of training opportunities. Subsequently in November 2020, she submitted a formal grievance comprising eleven pages in which she submitted complaints about a number of colleagues.

As a result, the HMRC worker was transferred to an alternative office location for six months. However, for the transfer to be made permanent, she must withdraw her grievance.

Unwanted Communication During HMRC Worker’s Extended Sick Leave

In June 2021, Ms Toure attended an appointment with an occupational health advisor. During this meeting, it was ascertained that a tumour was causing her pituitary gland to produce excessive prolactin, potentially leading to migraines. Consequently, Ms Toure began a period of sick leave on 30 June.

The HMRC worker requested that her employer should have minimal contact with her during her absence as stress exacerbated her symptoms. Despite making this clear, she was sent eleven emails and a birthday card over a three-week period. In November 2021, the HMRC worker received a letter from her employer warning that formal steps would be taken regarding her sick leave.

Ms Toure brought multiple claims against HMRC for race and disability discrimination, harassment, and victimisation.

What Did the Employment Tribunal Say?

HMRC Worker Requested For Minimum Contact Which Was Ignored

Ms Toure’s claims were heard at Croydon Employment Tribunal by Judge Adam Leith. Ten of these were upheld.

Under UK law, harassment is defined as “unwanted conduct relating to a relevant protected characteristic that violates a person’s dignity or has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.” Protected characteristics include age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

The tribunal ruled that HMRC’s repeated contact constituted “unwanted conduct”. This is made clear by the fact that Ms Toure had requested that such contact be kept to a minimum. Moreover, Ms Toure’s request for her birthday to be removed from Mr Henderson’s list confirmed that sending a birthday card was also unwanted conduct. This conduct created a hostile and intimidating environment for the HMRC worker.

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Judge Leith stated “[HMRC’s] explanation for the treatment was that (in essence) they had a duty of care to (Ms Toure) and had to check on her welfare. […] In the circumstances, [HMRC’s] duty of care would on the face of it have been more effectively observed by complying with her expressed wishes.”

Furthermore, it was held that Ms Toure was victimised when her previous complaints were ignored. This was demonstrated by HMRC stating that Ms Toure’s claims were “baseless” and “made as a result of the medication she was taking for her tumour.” Linking her transfer to the withdrawal of her complaints also constituted harassment related to race and harassment related to disability.

The amount of Ms Toure’s compensation will be decided at a later date.

If you think you have experienced harassment at work, Redmans Solicitors would be pleased to help. We are employment law specialists and can advise you on your employment law claim. Get in touch by:

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