Lecturer called ‘mad as a box of frogs’ wins constructive dismissal claim

The Central London Employment Tribunal building.
Philip Toscano/PA Archive/PA Images

A former university lecturer has successfully brought a constructive unfair dismissal claim at an employment tribunal after the education establishment failed to reduce her workload despite her mental health struggles.

Elizabeth Aylott, who suffered from anxiety and depression and was subsequently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, repeatedly raised issues about her workload at BPP University in London and her problems coping with it.

At one point, in summer 2018, she claimed she was working 55-60 hours per week and cancelled a period of annual leave in order to meet work demands.

She informed her manager that she was regularly drinking excessively in the evenings to help cope with work pressure and claimed she had had suicidal thoughts.

Upon being offered a permanent position in 2013, she informed the organisation that she had been taking antidepressants since the death of her husband. She later raised her mental health concerns again, after her son had been diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis, and on an occasion when she suspected she had Asperger’s syndrome.

Her mental health deteriorated in autumn 2018 and she was signed off work with stress. She later left the organisation in spring 2019 and lodged a claim for constructive unfair dismissal and disability discrimination.

She claimed she was discriminated against because she was not offered more than 15 days of paid sick leave or a phased return to work. She also claimed that a colleague had said she was “mad as a box of frogs”.

The Central London Employment Tribunal found that these aspects did not amount to disability discrimination, but upheld her constructive unfair dismissal claim.

It said the organisation had breached her trust and confidence in respect of the “mad as a box of frogs” comment; the decision not to pay non-contractual sick pay after 15 days; its failure to reduce her workload or provide her with additional resources and support; its failure to heed indications that she was not coping; and its attempt to reach a settlement agreement with her rather than refer her to occupational health as she’d requested.

The tribunal also described the grievance investigation as “superficial” and said it had contained inaccuracies. It noted that her appeal against the investigation’s outcome did not address all of Mrs Aylott’s arguments and was sufficient to amount to a “last straw”.

The tribunal will consider making a compensation order at a hearing in July. According to reports, BPP University planned to appeal the decision.

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