Tribunal win | Worker sacked after 5 days' sick leave following near-fatal allergic reaction

Worker sacked after 5 days' sick leave following near-fatal allergic reaction

An employee who was sacked after taking time off work to recover from a near-fatal allergic reaction has successfully sued his employer. 

Ope Ajanaku, a compliance & onboarding analyst at financial services firm Monsas - nearly died and was left “completely immobile” after accidentally consuming traces of peanuts at his brother’s wedding. An employment tribunal in London heard that the effects were so severe he had to be rushed to a resuscitation ward at hospital.

But after notifying his place of work that he’d be taking a few days off to recover, bosses began hounding Ajanaku for medical proof of his allergic reaction, employment judges heard.

After he refused to send the firm a medical certificate, Ajanaku was reportedly hauled to a disciplinary meeting and sacked without an investigation taking place. He subsequently launched employment tribunal appeal proceedings and has now emerged victorious after a panel agreed he had been unfairly dismissed on the grounds of disability discrimination. 

The tribunal heard that Ajanaku, who had been employed by Monsas since August 2021, went into anaphylactic shock in April 2022 at his older brother's wedding, having eaten some food that was seasoned with a peanut-based spice.

After being rushed to hospital to undergo life-saving treatment, he was discharged the following day and told to undertake a five-day rest and medication course at home. 

The tribunal heard that Ajanaku followed his company's absence protocol and told his boss he would need the week off to recover.

But when he returned to work, the company’s chief compliance officer emailed Ajanaku asking for a medical certificate because he was “off work for more than three days.”

Ajanaku told the hearing he didn’t think he needed to submit medical evidence, as ACAS guidance suggested this was unnecessary if the absence was fewer than seven days.

In an email sent to Ajanaku, the CCO told him: “You are now on notice, we are taking disciplinary action if you cannot produce the evidence requested by 12pm tomorrow.”

At the disciplinary meeting, Ajanaku’s work performance was brought into question, with the company’s MD reportedly saying that his absence would have been fine if it wasn't for him being “unreliable and shirking work.”

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He claimed that Ajanaku’s refusal to submit a medical certificate was the “straw that broke the camel's back.”

In his dismissal letter, Ajanaku was told it was unacceptable for him to have failed to attend work after his near-death experience.

At the tribunal, Employment Judge Tina Elliott said that Ajanaku's absence “was a significant part of the reason for his dismissal.”

Judge Elliot said: “Monsas had some doubts about the genuineness of Mr Ajanaku's sickness absence and they wished to investigate this, they wished to maintain a satisfactory level of attendance on his part.

“We find [that] to be a legitimate aim and they needed medical information in order to manage the situation appropriately. It was not disproportionate to seek a medical certificate for this purpose.

“There was no letter setting out the allegations he faced or the possible consequences of the meeting, he was not given time to prepare for the meeting and he was not afforded his right to be accompanied.

“He had no idea that a possible outcome of that meeting might be his dismissal. It was not enough for Ms Rigg to simply say in her email [that] he was now on notice that they were taking disciplinary action.

“We find that had he not been absent, Monsas would not have dismissed him… for performance reasons, particularly when this had never been addressed with him.

“Was the dismissal a proportionate means of achieving the company's stated legitimate aims? We find that it was not, particularly in the light of the respondent's Handbook.

“They moved to summary dismissal without an investigation, held a hearing at which Mr Ajanaku did not know the charges or possible consequences in advance and he was not given time to prepare or be accompanied if he had wished.”

A compensation amount will be decided at a later date.

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