Tag Archives: tribunal

Grace Under Fire

everything will be ok in the endA year ago today, I was called into the boardroom at work and fired.

No warning, no procedures followed, this was simply the culmination of a terrible year of systematic bullying which began shortly after my disclosure of MS. According to my employers, MS had made me a liability in the office and I was told to leave.

Looking back over that horrific day, I can see just how far I have come. I am no longer that cowed, bullied, humiliated person who got in her car and drove home in a daze, stunned by what had just happened.

This all took place during my MS diagnostic process, itself a torturous time of relapses, waiting, scans and more relapses. So not only was I facing up to a new life with a degenerative illness and all that entails, I was also at my lowest ebb from the relentless bullying meted out by my colleagues.

At first I was too tired to fight back. Bullies are clever. They slowly dismantle your self-esteem bit by bit. Undermining you, they make you doubt yourself and your capabilities. They shift the goalposts so often you can’t keep track. When that doesn’t break you, they will ostracize you, spread lies about you, snigger as you walk past or suddenly stop talking when you enter the room. School yard tactics maybe, but incredibly effective in the workplace.

Fast forward another few months and my employers settled out of court after I launched tribunal proceedings. I’ve been asked many times why I have never named the company or sector I worked in. I’m under no legal obligation not to do so, but I am not a malicious person. To do that would mean sinking to their level, playing them at their own tactics. Why bother? I have walked away with grace, with my head held high.

Instead, I now campaign for MS and employment rights and I try to help others going through similar situations. Isn’t that a better use of my energy than holding on to bitterness and regret? The few times I think about my ex-employers, I feel saddened that these people felt it necessary to bolster their own fragile egos by deliberately inflicting pain on me when I was in such a vulnerable position. I needed support and help back then, not merciless bullying.

That which does not kill you can only make you stronger? A well-worn cliché maybe, but so very true.

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Blog Action Day – Human Rights

Blog Action Day 2013Every year since 2007, thousands of bloggers have come together for one day to talk about one important issue. Previously, bloggers have focused on the issues of poverty, water and climate change. This year, we discuss Human Rights:

Recently a woman from Glasgow with primary progressive multiple sclerosis won a ruling (thought to be the first of its kind) that changes to housing benefit breached her human rights, paving the way for similar appeals.

Since April this year, social tenants who are deemed to have too many rooms have had their housing benefit cut, the so-called ‘spare room subsidy’ or ‘bedroom tax’. The woman in this case lives with her husband in a two bedroom house, and lost 14% of their housing benefit, resulting in arrears with their housing association.

However, tribunal judge Lyndy Boyd ruled that the woman’s case must be viewed within the context of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006, and ‘it would be incompatible with the appellant’s rights under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights read with Article 1.’

Due to the woman’s severe disability, she is not able to share a bedroom with her husband (who also provides care during the night), and as such, their house is not under-occupied. The tribunal ruled that they required a bedroom each and a decision to cut their housing benefit therefore breached her human rights.

The woman’s bedroom measures 3.2m by 3.1m. Her ceiling tracking hoist is 3m by 3m, her hospital bed is 2.2m by 1m. She also needs her electric wheelchair next to her bed, a wheelchair ramp, remote power door entry, specially widened doors and a wet room. She is assisted by specialist carers three times a day who also need to be able to move around the room freely.

The Department of Work and Pensions have commented only to say ‘we will need to look at this particular decision in detail’ and that ‘tribunal decisions at this level do not set a precedent.’ Therefore anyone else in a similar situation could also have to endure the stress and humiliation of this process. We can only imagine what this couple went through whilst still having to live and cope with severe disability on a day-to-day basis.

I for one though am full of admiration that they found the strength to take the case to tribunal. The DWP may claim this is not a precedent, but this couple has surely given a much-needed voice to thousands.

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Backing The Bullies

This Summer, The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will be introduced with Vince Cable, the business secretary, stating that ‘people who work hard and do the right thing (will be) rewarded.’

Sounds fair? Dig a little deeper.

Staff who feel they’ve been unfairly sacked will find it much more difficult to raise a case – there will be a cap on compensation for unfair dismissal and new charges for bringing a claim.

This is on top of the time employees have to work for their company before they can file an unfair dismissal claim – a shocking rise from one to two years.

As many of you will know, I was unfairly dismissed from my job last Autumn for having MS. Thankfully, I had worked for just over two years and recently the case was settled in my favour. However I know of people in low-paid jobs who are routinely ‘dismissed’ from their jobs right before the two-year cut off, only to see those same jobs quickly re-advertised.

Until now, taking a case to a tribunal has been free. Once the bill is passed, the proposed new fees will be £250 for lodging a standard claim and a further £950 if it goes to a hearing. How many people who are sacked can even contemplate these charges? And with legal aid being drastically scaled back, few will be able to fight back.

Even more Orwellian is the introduction of ‘protected conversations’, where an employer can take you aside out of the blue, offer to pay you to leave and you won’t be able to use anything said in the discussion as evidence in an unfair dismissal claim (discrimination cases are exempt from this). This protects your employer, not you. Presently, employers only have this protection once a formal dispute has already been raised regarding your performance.

For people already fighting to keep their jobs in the midst of a recession, especially for those with a disability, this is devastating news. Bullying bosses have been handed even more power, and this time it comes government-backed.

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I Fought Back…And Won

Actually, I canI was sacked from my job last October for having MS, preceded by a vicious campaign of bullying and harrassment which almost drove me over the edge. At the same time, I was struggling to cope with my diagnosis and had also just been through Alemtuzumab treatment in the summer.

The day I was sacked,  I went home in shock. I was at my lowest ebb. The drip-drip effect of the bullying had left me sapped of confidence, drained of energy and incapable of any positive thinking. The sacking was the culmination of a truly horrific year. How anyone can bully a person going through a diganosis of MS is beyond me and the cruelty of it still astounds me.

I decided to accept my fate and leave it at that. But then I got angry, then furious. Was I really just going to walk away? Luckily, I still had one tiny scrap of fight left in me and so began a long legal process.

I am over the moon to report that I have now won my case. The matter is settled and it is time to move on, with my dignity and pride restored.

Bullying at work can be insidious. It is not always immediately obvious. It can start insignificantly and like an abusive partner, can slowly erode your confidence, your judgement and your rational thinking. When the bullying then escalates, you feel too undermined and isolated to fight back.

Bullying someone with MS (or any other serious illness) is cowardly. The bullying may come from a position of strength, from their status in work, but it is only carried out by weak people who take delight in hurting others who are already in pain.

I have fought a long, exhausting battle and was close to giving up along the way, such was the hold these people still had over me in my mind. It’s only thanks to family, friends, fellow MSers and a fabulous lawyer that I got to this point.

If you are in the same position I was, don’t accept it. You are worth more than that. Keep notes of every incident no matter how small, every date. Surround yourself  with a strong network and most importantly, realise that it is not your fault.

It’s a beautiful feeling to wake up every morning knowing I am no longer bullied. I am a worthy person and I will go on to better things. As they say, success is the best revenge.

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