A surgeon who revealed he was autistic to his NHS employer has been awarded more than £4,000 for discrimination after being told ‘many doctors are on the spectrum’.
Alan Macleod worked as a consultant at the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust from 2008, five years before his diagnosis. He told the tribunal that his condition “affects how people communicate and interact with others”.
In 2015, he began having some disagreements with senior staff over email, and management was alerted. In 2018, he was accused by a nurse colleague of routinely turning up late, as part of a performance review. He emailed her about this and made an official complaint about her comments two months later.
Macleod was summoned to a meeting with the Trust’s medical director to address claims that he was harassing the nurse. He became emotional and told the director, Dr Barker, that he had autism. In response, Dr Barker said: “I would say that there are a lot of doctors who are on the spectrum”, a comment that Macleod saw to be minimising his condition.
After the meeting, he took several months’ sick leave, and when he returned faced further issues with his work. An investigation concluded he was not performing his duties properly, and in 2019, he was found to have bullied and harassed the nurse who had criticised his timekeeping.
Macleod, who represented himself at the Reading employment tribunal, filed multiple claims but only his claim of disability discrimination was upheld.
Employment Judge Anstis ruled that he had been subject to direct disability discrimination by the Trust in respect of the comments made by Dr Barker in the meeting where he disclosed his diagnosis.
Dr Barker told the tribunal that she had simply been trying to “comfort, encourage and coach” Macleod so he could have more harmonious relationships with colleagues.
In the judgment, Anstis said: “Her attempt at comforting the claimant by saying many doctors were ‘on the spectrum’ was seen by the claimant as demonstrating a lack of understanding of his condition.
“We accept that Dr Barker’s comments could reasonably be taken that way and were taken that way by the claimant… To seek to minimise the nature of the claimant’s condition in this way was well-meant, but was also less favourable treatment.
“As for her suggestions concerning making cups of tea or meeting face-to-face, there may be a place in some conversations for discussing coping strategies, but the claimant is correct to say that Dr Barker’s comments come across as if his disability can be overcome with simple steps, some of which (such as the face-to-face meetings) may have been very difficult for the claimant to undertake.
“There seems in these comments to be no acknowledgement that the claimant’s behaviour stems from a life-long disability. It cannot be a matter of simple behavioural changes.”
Macleod was awarded £3,000 for injury to feelings and £1,320 in interest.