Contract termination advice

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Hi,

I have recently had my contract at work terminated after 6 years. I am a surveyor/GIS consultant working for a utility company in NI.

I was diagnosed with High grade Diffuse Large B-Cell NHL in July 2022. I completed 6 rounds of R-EPOCH chemotherapy in Nov 2022 but since then have been dealing with long term/permanent side effects making me unable to return to work as quickly as I would have like. The side effects are reduced immunity and peripheral neuropathy (in both hands and feet which I have been told is permanent). Along with severe anxiety and depression.

My employer has been good with me and my time off generally. Although there was very little contact made with me during my time off. As I can't drive anymore I will be unable to fulfil my role as a surveyor, although since Nov 2019 I have been acting Network Coordinator which does not involve site visits, and from March 2020, I have been working from home.

Occupational Health assessments have advised a desk role, from home, which was initially put to me in Oct 2023 as how it would be when I returned. However in Jan 2024 I was notified that because "there was no date for my return to work" I would be being terminated. My question around this is that the occupational health report gives a timeline in which I could return to the altered role (which I believe is more than reasonably practical) and even sets out a staggered phased return but my employer seems to have disregarded this and not even tried to accommodate any changes.

For more background, I was told that there were no WFH jobs available for me (my own is working from home since 2020 and the rest of the office are still working from home). I am wondering if this is in breach of the Equality Act as no discussion has been made at all to try and accommodate me returning as a disabled worker. Another reason given was that I had been "ill to long", yet the reason I have been covering the different role since 2019 was because of someone else being on sick leave.

Sorry this is a bit of a minefield but I am so confused and disappointed in my employer. If you would like any more details, I can provide them. 

  • Hi  

    Thank you for your message. My name is Alissa, and I am an adviser in the Work Support team.

    I am sorry to hear about your diagnosis and that you are suffering long term side effects from your treatment. I can hear you have been through a lot and hope you are being well supported by your medical team. Navigating the challenges with anxiety and depression, your medical team would want to know if there is any way they can help and support you. Please do reach out to them if you need.

    Assuming from your message your work is based in Northern Ireland, I shall base my guidance on this.

    It sounds like you were approaching a return to work, discussing a plan and reasonable adjustments that you required, with the support, advice, and guidance from Occupation Health. Were you able to discuss with your employer about a potential return date and discuss the adjustments you required? I noted your employer told you there were no jobs available for you to work from home. Did they give you a reason why this was not possible, given you had previously worked from home since March 2020? If a role is not available, an employer does not have to make one available for you. Have they changed their policy on working from home do you know? Policies must not discriminate and if there is a blanket policy disallowing working from home, it could potentially be ‘indirect disability discrimination’.

    In case you are not familiar, as you have a cancer diagnosis you are automatically considered to be disabled under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Equality Act 2010 if in England, Scotland, or Wales). This means your employer should not discriminate against you because of the cancer, and your employer is under a duty to make reasonable adjustments to help you at work. There is information on NI Direct’s website that you may find useful.

    An employer has a legal obligation to consider all reasonable adjustments to remove or minimise disadvantages experienced by disabled people. Employers must make reasonable adjustments to ensure disabled people are not disadvantaged in the workplace. They should also make sure policies and practices do not put disabled people at a disadvantage.

    If you were not able to provide a foreseeable return date, a dismissal under a capability process could be deemed fair, regardless of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.  An employer, in this scenario should follow a fair procedure including a reasonable return to work date, and any reasonable adjustments that can be put in place to support your return. If you feel your dismissal is unfair.  I suggest appealing as per your company policy and reach out as soon as possible to the industrial Tribunal Service as detailed below and being mindful of the 3-month time limit.

    Industrial Tribunal Service

    When you lodge a claim with the Industrial Tribunal Service, you can ask them to consider more than one issue.

    We would always recommend trying to resolve any matter informally. If an informal discussion does not resolve the issue or is not practical, it is important for you to follow the employer’s grievance and disciplinary procedures. A tribunal can take account what happens during these processes in deciding a case. For most cases the time limit is 3 months from the act of discrimination. Before going to tribunal, you may wish to consider pre-claim conciliation through the Labour Relations Agency. They also offer free, confidential, and impartial advice on all employment issues. Their number is 0330 0555 300 and they also have a website.

    There are no fees to bring a case to tribunal, however if after a prehearing review the tribunal believes your claim is not likely to succeed, they can make you pay a deposit of £500 which should your claim fail, you will not receive back. There is more information about industrial tribunals on this link.

    If you are a member of a work union, I would suggest reaching out to them for support in this matter.

    Labour Relations Agency

    The Labour Relations Agency provide offer free, confidential, and impartial advice on all employment issues. Their number is 0330 0555 300 and they also have a website.

    Law Centre (NI)

    The Northern Ireland Law Centre may be able to advise on employment issues. They usually work on a referral basis. The Belfast office telephone number is 028 9024 4401.

    Legal Aid

    Legal aid may be available for discrimination cases if you meet the financial criteria. You can find out more here.

    I hope this information has been helpful to you and please do not hesitate to get back in touch with us if you need.

    Kind regards

    Alissa

    Work Support Advisor

    Remember you can also speak with the Macmillan Support Line team of experts. Phone free on 0808 808 0000 (7 days a week, 8am-8pm) or by email