Disabled Employee Pays Price for Refusal to Work

An employee who is mistreated by their employer has every right to complain. However, an employee who digs in their heels may pay a high price for their actions, as was illustrated by a case concerning a disabled man who simply downed tools and refused to work after he was demoted (Rochford v WNS Global Services (UK) Limited and Others).

Mr Rochford was a senior vice president working for WNS Global Services (UK) Limited, a business services company. He had a long-standing back problem, for which he required surgery, and had to take a year off work. The company asked him to return to work on limited duties but failed to tell him that the aim was for him to work up to his previous role.

He believed that he had been demoted and, after his return to the office, refused to carry out any work whatsoever, even that of which he was capable. Following a disciplinary process, he was summarily dismissed on the basis that his refusal to work amounted to a gross act of insubordination and a breach of his contract.

Mr Rochford brought claims of unfair and wrongful dismissal, contending that he had been discriminated against because of his disability.

An Employment Tribunal decided that his dismissal was procedurally unfair, that he had been demoted and that he had suffered disability discrimination. However, it went on to rule that he had suffered no substantive unfairness on the basis that his refusal to work amounted to misconduct and that his dismissal lay within the range of reasonable responses open to the company. His wrongful dismissal claim also failed.

In rejecting his appeal against that ruling, the Employment Appeal Tribunal noted that it was a case of a senior employee, in receipt of full pay, refusing to do any work. He had received a number of warnings as to the consequences of the stand he was taking and the course which he should have followed was either to resign and claim unfair constructive dismissal or to work under protest.

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