A UK worker has won over £30,000 in a discrimination tribunal case after her employer sacked her for low productivity despite her having breast cancer at the time.
Lucy Lydall, a former marketing manager at The Woolridge Partnership construction company, was sacked from her role for a lack of performance, which was attributed to her illness. Lydall said she found out she had stage one breast cancer two months after starting the role and had to take time off for hospital treatment and later more time off to get married.
Lydall said she found out she had lost her job after returning from this leave. After receiving the news she had been sacked, Lydall said she was “completely shocked” and decided to sue the company for disability discrimination.
Reportedly, Lydall’s employer didn’t speak to her about improving her work as managers didn’t want to add to her stress, instead she was given ‘positive reinforcement’ to incentivise her. “At no time did anyone talk to me about my performance. In fact, all I received was positive reinforcement,” said Lydall at the tribunal.
Representing herself in the case, Lydall claimed she was never directly told by her managers they were unhappy with her, as a result the judge criticised her employer for sacking her at a time of “exceptional vulnerability”, winning her compensation of £32,351.
The judge said to her employer at the tribunal: "Mr. Wooldridge... had her disability in mind when he stated that one reason for not referring her to negative feedback was her disability and the medical treatment, she was either about to undergo or had undergone.”
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As a result of the case and the stress involved in it, Lydall stated a “loss of confidence” as the reason for her not returning to marketing, she’s currently working as a part-time assistant merchandiser.
Approaching cancer as a manager
When asked why he didn’t tell Lydall she was performing badly, her manager said he didn’t think this was the “right approach,” indicating a lack of understanding in the workplace on how to approach a situation where an employee is diagnosed with cancer.
There are multiple things you can do as an employer when you become aware of a diagnosis. Allowing your employee to take the lead can be important in giving them autonomy over the situation. Doing simple things such as asking them how they’re feeling mentally and emotionally, asking if they want colleagues to be made aware, letting them know their legal rights, and letting them know about time off policies are all ways you can make them feel supported.
Being able to address cancer in an open and supportive way at work can make all the difference to a worker who might be experiencing a diagnosis, knowing how to approach this without fear can be a useful tool in any manager’s arsenal.