• Line managers downgraded dyslexic employee despite other staff performing worse
  • No minutes were made and the employee wasn’t told of proposals to help her
  • Tribunal said it had “grave concerns” over lack of documentation

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman may have to pay damages to a dyslexic former employee after a tribunal decided it had discriminated against a disabled worker.

The PHSO, the final arbiter of complaints against the NHS, was found by an employment tribunal to have directly discriminated against Humma Rashid, who was employed as a project officer in 2017.

Ms Rashid was not told about concerns over the standard of her work and line managers downgraded her performance rating despite other staff performing worse than her, according to a published judgment.

Poor communication from her line managers meant Ms Rashid believed her contract would not be extended due to her poor rating. As a result, she resigned from the PHSO.

The employment tribunal said it had “grave concerns” over the lack of minutes from the meeting where Ms Rashid’s line managers discussed her rating and that the spreadsheets used at the meeting had gone missing.

It added there were also no minutes of other meetings, including one where managers discussed making adjustments to accommodate Ms Rashid’s disability. This meeting was chaired by an assistant director and included a union representative.

The tribunal judgment, published after hearings in October and November last year, did not include any award of damages. This has been reserved to a future remedy hearing.

Before starting work with the PHSO on a temporary contract, Ms Rashid informed the ombudsman she was dyslexic but she did not request any special adjustments at that stage, the published judgment stated.

Concerns emerged about the standard of her work but the tribunal said she was unaware it was worse than her colleagues.

The judgment said: “Nothing significant had been said to her. She was aware that she was receiving criticism, which she took positively. She did not however appreciate that her written work was not improving at the rate of her colleagues.

“She was therefore unaware that her dyslexia was impacting on her work. The managers on the other hand were aware that her work was not improving at an acceptable rate, were aware of her dyslexia, and did nothing about it.”

Initially, her line manager rated her as “satisfactory” but, in a moderation meeting with another manager where she was described as being “in the middle” of her team, she was reduced to “needing improvement”.

The tribunal said there were “a series of failures in the communication chain”. It added: “The end result was that one week before the claimant’s fixed term contract ended, she had no idea what the future held and had been told… that her contract would end on the 31 August 2017. This was completely wrong.”

Managers had discussed her case and agreed to make changes to help her and to extend her contract by two months, but this was not taken forward, and, when she resigned, there was no attempt to tell Ms Rashid her contract could have been extended.

Her line manager initially gave evidence that she had not seen an email from HR setting this out but later accepted she had acknowledged it in another email.

In conclusion, the tribunal said it was “given no specific evidence in support of the down grading decision, to account for the fact that others were performing less effectively in other areas of work, but were not downgraded”.

It said: “This appeared to target the claimant alone, in relation to her writing skills which the respondent knew or should have known were being impacted by her disability.

“She suffered unfavourable treatment by being downgraded and thus losing her secure position of a permanent role with the respondent. She suffered anxiety and distress as well as stress, all of which was completely caused by the respondent failing to advise her of their plan for her future.

“No one seems to have taken account of the fact that the claimant had been told she was satisfactory, and that at least three others were also failing in elements of their work. The moderation meeting was, for the tribunal clouded in mystery. The answers given were vague and unsupported by any documentary evidence.”

A Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman spokeswoman said: “We accept the tribunal findings and take our responsibilities in this area extremely seriously. We have made a number of changes to ensure that staff with disabilities get the support they need and that these needs are taken fully into account in performance management.”