In an unprecedented legal ruling that could set new standards for workplace communication, a plumber has been awarded £130,000 after being excluded from a work-related group chat. Employment Judge Sarah George declared that such exclusions could constitute an “unfavourable act,” essentially labeling it as discrimination.
The Backstory: The Case of Mark Brosnan
Mark Brosnan, employed by Coalo—a company entirely owned by Hounslow Council in London—found himself left out of a workplace WhatsApp group during his absence due to a back injury. Brosnan started experiencing lower back problems in June 2019, culminating in a 15-day absence from work in February 2020. He was called into a “formal absence meeting,” following which an occupational health assessment confirmed he could return to work within two to three weeks.
However, Brosnan revealed he became “extremely depressed” when his employer failed to accommodate recommendations made for his return to work. His suffering escalated when he incurred another lower back accident at work injury in April 2020, which he attributes to a “failure to implement” the occupational health recommendations and engaging in work he “had not been trained for.”
Discrimination in the Digital Age
In a revelation that came to light in August 2021, Brosnan discovered he had been excluded from a vital workplace WhatsApp group designed to disseminate important information, including matters related to health and safety. His exclusion was defended by a manager who stated he was left out because he was absent. This led to Brosnan’s resignation in December 2021, following no resolution to his grievance and being denied full sick pay.
Legal Consequences: A New Precedent
Judge George dismissed Coalo’s justifications, citing a lack of evidence for such exclusion. She noted, “Some employers do not contact employees at all during sickness absence for risk of exacerbating their ill health. But that cannot be presumed and in the absence of evidence, I’m not satisfied that there was any justification for this.” Brosnan’s claims for disability discrimination, victimisation, and unfair dismissal were subsequently upheld, leading to a £134,411 compensation award.
Implications for Employers
This case serves as a cautionary tale for employers, highlighting the importance of clear, inclusive, and non-discriminatory communication policies. Companies must reevaluate their internal communication strategies to ensure they are fair and unbiased, thereby fostering a respectful workplace environment for all employees, regardless of their health status or other discriminating factors.
The Workers Union says…
“This landmark ruling should serve as a wake-up call for employers who overlook the significance of inclusive communication, pointing out that even small acts like excluding someone from a group chat can have substantial legal and financial repercussions.”