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Landmark case will improve agency workers’ rights

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Agency workers are set to have better anti-discrimination rights after an Employment Tribunal awarded a woman over £35,000 for disability discrimination and unfair dismissal in a case funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The Tribunal heard that agency worker Corinda Pegg had been dismissed after 44 weeks service due to absences caused by depression. After a series of bereavements she was absent from work for a week receiving mental health residential care. On her return to work she was sometimes late and, when questioned by her manager, explained that this was due to her disability. Two months later, she was admitted to hospital following a panic attack and, whilst receiving medical care at home the following fortnight, she was told by phone that her employment had been terminated because of poor attendance and punctuality.

Although she had requested confidentiality, work emails revealed that her medical condition had been openly discussed with a colleague. The data also indicated that discussions about ending her employment had begun before requests for further information about the reasons for her absence from work. The case went to the Employment Appeal Tribunal on the legal question of whether equality law protects agency workers from being discriminated against by an organisation they are supplied to. The Judge said that, as Ms Pegg was under an obligation to work for Camden Council, it was subject to a legal duty not to discriminate. The compensation was awarded when the case returned for a full hearing to the Employment Tribunal.

Commission deputy director legal, Wendy Hewitt said: “There was an urgent need to clarify the legal status of agency workers who have been discriminated against, given the increase in this type of working arrangement. “This case clarifies that agency workers are entitled to the same degree of protection from discrimination at their place of work as permanent employees”

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