Office manager wins £23,000 after she was sacked when she asked for a new chair


Mrs Walker has successfully sued Modular Office & Storage Systems Limited after a court found in her favor that a suitable chair would have meant she could have returned to work sooner.

An office manager was sacked after asking for a new chair (stock image)

An office manager who was sacked after 18 years in the job when she asked for a new chair has been awarded a £23,000 payout, an employment court heard.

Lynda Walker, who suffered with a hip problem for three years and was waiting for treatment, had to leave work for four months.

She had asked for a new chair as the one she had been using was not suitable because it “exacerbated her pain and discomfort”, the hearing was told.

In order to help alleviate some of her pain, Mrs Walker had asked for the arms of her chair to be removed but engineer, Christopher Hoey, was “reluctant” to do this as they were screwed on and he thought it would make the chair faulty , the panel heard.

The company, Modular Office & Storage Systems Limited based in Tyne and Wear, failed to carry out a workplace assessment to establish whether a different chair or desk would have helped Mrs Walker return to work.







Mrs Walker suggested a new or adapted chair would help, the court heard (stock image)
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Getty Images/Eye Em)

After complaining of pain in her back, she asked for an informal meeting with bosses, where Mrs Walker said she was in great pain and was unable to sit or walk. She suggested a new or adapted chair would help, the court heard.

However, she later received a letter inviting her to an absence meeting which warned her the company was finding it difficult to cover her absence and may not be able to hold her job open, the panel was told.

Because of the busy months without her, the company had reached a decision to sack Mrs Walker due to “long term ill health” despite her being fit to work just five days later, the panel was told.

Mrs Walker has successfully sued the company after a court found in her favor that a suitable chair would have meant she could have returned to work sooner.







The company did not carry out a workplace assessment to establish whether a different chair or desk would have helped (stock image)
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Image:

Getty Images/iStockphoto)

She joined in January 2001 where she initially did admin work before becoming office manager. Part of a small team, she was one of six full-time employees as well as directors Bernard McWilliams and John Rimington.

The court heard she went off sick for a week in May 2018 due to hip bursitis, an inflammation of the bursa which is a sac which reduces friction in the body.

In addition, she went off for a fortnight due to hip and back pain in October, followed by a certified five months off, with the final certificate due to expire in March 2019.

An occupational health report was carried in December 2018 which found she had endured pain in her left hip for up to three years and was on medication.

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Some of the report said: “Her reason for absence is the high level of pain that interferes severely with concentration and at the same time the medication she was prescribed makes her sleep during the day, overall she feels unable to do her work and she is worried her performance could be inadequate.

“She requested a desk assessment because she feels she can benefit from a better chair and desk reposition, the current setup appears to aggravate her symptoms and complaints.”

Mrs Walker was fit to work but needed advice on how to deal with the symptoms and pain, the court heard.

She was upset and felt bosses did not want her to return and were using “her period of absence as an opportunity to dismiss her or renew their efforts to pressure her into retirement.”

She was sacked for long term ill health in February 2019 with the company claiming that “even with modification”, they could not foresee a return to work date.

The court was told she later appealed this dismissal, claiming an injection she would receive at Sunderland Royal Hospital meant she would be able to return to work.

However, the company rejected this despite her being effectively fit to return to work from March 23 2019 when her employment had ended on March 18.

Mrs Walker decided to sue, claiming unfair dismissal and unlawful disability discrimination and winning both.

During the court her boss, Mr Rimington, said: “It’s important to understand how busy we were, because when Lynda’s absence started we had to pick up her duties.

“It was a huge strain that as time passed became more difficult to manage. It was clear that all staff were struggling.”

The panel found that no attempts had been made to replace Mrs Walker such as through an agency when she was off sick, nor had her role been filled following her dismissal.

Employment Judge Gerald Johnson concluded: “[Mrs Walker] maintained (as did the occupational health physician) that a more suitable chair and desk would probably mean that [she] would be able to return to work sooner to undertake her duties.

“[The company] failed to address its mind to the possibility of making that adjustment.”

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www.mirror.co.uk

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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