Boots unfairly dismisses and discriminates against disabled pharmacy technician

A Boots pharmacy technician with 34 years’ service, who worked in a failing Holyhead pharmacy, was constructively dismissed after suffering discrimination from her line manager, following the premature implementation of a Performance Improvement Process (PIP).

Wed 29th April 2020 The PDA

Tribunal decision

In a highly embarrassing judgement for any employer, let alone the largest pharmacy multiple in the UK, the employment tribunal also concluded that Boots failed to make reasonable adjustments for their disabled employee, including:

  • Failing to allow the technician to have tea breaks during the working day
  • Unfairly applying the company attendance management policy by failing to discount disability absences
  • Failing to ensure a manageable workload for a 4-month period
  • The judgment describes a catalogue of errors by the local store and area management; the judgment can be viewed here.

Background

The Holyhead pharmacy was described as “high risk” and was placed in “special measures” after failing pharmacy and SOP audits. Following a period without a regular manager, the new store manager decided to unilaterally stop tea breaks without consulting any of the staff. This decision aggravated the technician’s existing back problem, Scoliosis. A recommended workplace risk assessment of the pharmacy workstation was never completed despite this being requested multiple times.

The technician also worked additional hours on an unpaid basis and without being offered time off in lieu. The court found that allocating the technician additional work, added to her pain and that the store manager was aware of this. After an increased workload, the technician had a period of absence. During her return to work meeting, the new manager handed the technician a note which said, “professionalism – research what the word means and practice within your role…”.

Immediately before going on holiday, the technician was asked by the store manager to go into a relief role. When the technician rejected this change because of her disability, her manager said “in that case on your return, I am going to put you on a PIP” This threat greatly distressed the technician who was too upset to then go on holiday. After coming back into the pharmacy on her day off to help with the workload, the manager presented her with a pre-written PIP.

The technician then visited her GP and never returned to work. The tribunal found that the acts of discrimination went to the heart of the implied term of trust and confidence which allowed the technician to consider herself unfairly and constructively dismissed. Although the pharmacy technician conclusively won her case in 2019, Boots continues to dispute the total amount of compensation being claimed and a further hearing will be necessary for the Tribunal to decide how much should be awarded.

PDA View

Mark Pitt, PDA Director of Defence Services said “This pharmacy employee was treated very badly, which has resulted in the end of a long unblemished employment relationship; unfortunately, some members have reported similar experiences at work. Our aim as a recognised trade union is to stop such situations in the first place or resolve them early, but where they have occurred, we will help our members to obtain justice.

Currently, the PDA is supporting a number of experienced Boots pharmacists through employment proceedings including complaints about unmanageable workload, disability discrimination, lack of consultation as well as harassment and whistleblowing claims. These cases have a significant impact on the mental health of pharmacists which is made worse by lengthy grievance processes and poor-quality investigations”.

Paul Day, PDA Director, commented “If any staff member was in any doubt about the importance of belonging to a trade union, they must read this tribunal judgment.  The only recognised independent trade union in Boots for pharmacists and pre-reg pharmacists is the PDAU and for all other pharmacy and shop staff the PDAU recommend joining USDAW; the support of a good trade union can be invaluable in getting treated fairly at work. Such poor management behaviour is simply unacceptable, and we will be seeking assurances from senior company representatives that lessons have been learnt from this and other cases”.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented significant challenges in pharmacy; however, employers have a clear and unwavering duty of care towards their employees, including treating them fairly and reasonably. Any Boots pharmacist requiring advice and support should contact the PDA on 0121 694 7000 or email enquiries@the-pda.org

The victim of this discrimination was not a pharmacist, but we encourage all members of the pharmacy team to join a suitable union,

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As part of our work to meet the demands of our growing membership and advance our work on equality, earlier this year we launched four Equality, Diversity and Inclusions (EDI) networks, including one on Disability. Click the button below to learn more and join one or more of our networks today.

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