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Teacher wins unfair dismissal claim after being made redundant while on sick leave

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

In Mrs J A Healey v Lancashire County Council Mrs Healey was employed by Lancashire council in its schools improvement service as an early years’ specialist. She is a qualified teacher. In November 2014, Mrs Healey was diagnosed with cancer. She needed to take long periods of sickness absence so that her cancer could be treated. She was absent from work for the whole of 2015 when she endured operations and a strong course of chemotherapy. She returned to work in May 2016. Unfortunately, in 2017 it was discovered that the cancer had returned and she required more treatment. She was again absent due to sickness relating to cancer which continued until early 2019.

In 2018 the council undertook a restructure of its early years team. Mrs Healey was unhappy with the outcome of this restructure as it affected her. She believes that she was treated unfairly and discriminated against. Mrs Healey was let go from her role at the authority after refusing to accept a new position in the restructuring process. She was in remission at this point.

The court found that the dismissal was in breach of the Equality Act 2010 – discrimination arising from disability – and stated she had been ‘unfairly dismissed’. Judge Leach said this was due to requiring Mrs Healey to apply and be interviewed – in competition with a colleague – for a role ‘substantially the same as her own’ which she had carried out since 2012. He said that the new role was “almost identical” to her old job, and ruled that “she should have been provided” with the new role by default. The court found that the competitive interview process amounted to unfavourable treatment due to her long absence from work and cancer treatment.

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