Man who suffered heart attack at work was ‘unfairly dismissed’

The dismissal of a man who suffered mental health issues after having a heart attack at work was unfair.

That was the decision of the Employment Tribunal in a case involving mechanic Gordon Flemming and East of England Ambulance Services NHS Trust. Mr Flemming was classified as disabled due to his anxiety depression disorder, but that didn’t prevent him carrying out his work satisfactorily. 

The tribunal was told that Mr Flemming suffered chest pains and shortness of breath following an altercation with a colleague. He was later diagnosed as having had a heart attack. 

He was off work for two months. Then an occupational health specialist wrote to him saying he was well enough to return on a phased basis in which he could increase his days gradually when he felt able to do so. 

However, Mr Flemming felt the environment at work was hostile to towards him and he became extremely distressed, prompting symptoms of his heart attack to return.

During discussions with the Trust, he said he was given an ultimatum that he would “have to shake his accuser’s hand before he was permitted to return to work”. 

He was re-admitted to hospital, feeling that his mental illness was starting to show again.

The Trust’s occupational health report concluded that Mr Flemming had experienced psychological symptoms and was bitter towards the trust. It said, “a successful return may not be feasible, although he does not want his employment terminated”. 

Over several months, Mr Flemming declined invitations to meet with occupational health and to attend disciplinary hearings. The Trust then concluded that his refusal to follow reasonable management instructions to attend meetings “rendered it impracticable to continue his employment”. 

He was dismissed for gross misconduct for failing to attend meetings.

The Employment Tribunal ruled that the dismissal was unfair and that he had been discriminated against on the grounds of disability. It acknowledged that Mr Flemming was difficult to manage and could be uncooperative. 

It also accepted that the Trust had policies in place to deal with such issues but added: “It seems to us though, the policies were viewed in isolation and there was a tendency to view issues according to a particular policy, for example grievance or ill health management, rather than take a holistic view of the workplace difficulties experienced by the claimant (Mr Flemming).  

A separate remedy hearing was scheduled to decide how Mr Flemming should be compensated.

Case details

Mr Gordon Flemming v East of England Ambulance Services NHS Trust
Employment Tribunal December 2018
Employment Judge Cassel

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