An employment tribunal has ruled that BPP unfairly dismissed a manager who suffered from anxiety, depression and autism.
Elizabeth Aylott joined BPP in 2009 as an employment law lecturer, and was transferred to head the "functional skills" department in April 2018. Her manager, Juliette Wagner, described Aylott to her new supervisor David Donnarumma as "mad as a box of frogs but a good worker". Donnarumma later recounted the comment to Aylott.
Aylott suffers from an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), anxiety and depression, and the tribunal found that BPP had knowledge or "constructive knowledge" during the course of 2018 that Aylott had those conditions. The university was also aware that Aylott was on antidepressants following difficult personal circumstances: her husband died in 2011, her son was diagnosed with ME in 2014 and her father became severely ill in 2018 before passing away in 2019.
Over the summer of 2018 Aylott was working around 60 hours a week, including weekends and evenings. She felt overworked and had to cancel a summer holiday, and on another occasion, went into A&E after a work-related panic attack. A "pivotal moment" came in September 2018 when a BPP Director made a complaint against Aylott claiming she had been rude on a webinar and also pushed back on jobs because of her team's workload. Aylott was "angry and frustrated" about the complaint and emailed a manager saying she felt like requesting time off in lieu for all the evenings she'd worked.
From September 2018, Aylott made her managers and HR aware of the difficulties she was facing. In one meeting she told them that "she had suffered a breakdown, felt over-loaded and could no longer cope". She reminded them that she was a widow with two children, and also said she was drinking alcohol to cope and had experienced suicidal thoughts.
HR Business Partner, Steven Shaw, held calls and meetings with Aylott. In one call he told her that someone of her experience should be able to manage their workload. On another occasion he told Aylott that her feelings of stress were based on "perception" and that other managers were working similar hours to get jobs done.
Probably unwise to say it, however good the intention
In November 2018, Aylott asked BPP for a referral to see an Occupational Health professional; but this was not granted by the university at the time.
Aylott took a number of days and weeks off with sickness; and at one point her GP said that she was only fit to work two hours a day. Donnarumma arranged other staff as cover, and estimated in an email that Aylott's absence cost the business £12,000.
Aylott told BPP that she was struggling on the statutory sick pay of £80 a week, but the university said it would not extend its 15 days of contractual sick pay. In January 2019, she brought an internal grievance saying she believed she was treated differently because her issue "was a mental health issue." Aylott's complaint to BPP was unsuccessful and she resigned in April 2019.
She has now succeeded at the employment tribunal for a claim against BPP of constructive unfair dismissal. The tribunal gave numerous cumulative reasons for reaching its decision, citing Wagner's "mad as a box of frogs" comment as "inappropriate and unprofessional", and said Shaw's comment that Aylott should be experienced enough to manage her workload was "crass and insensitive". The tribunal slammed BPP's stance on sick pay and its failure to reduce Aylott's workload or provide her with additional support.
The tribunal also ruled that BPP's "surprising failure" to refer Aylott to Occupational Health in a timely manner, amounted to "unfavourable treatment" because of "something arising out of a disability". The tribunal said that Aylott had a need for adjustments to her role, but Shaw was "of the view that managers working in excess of contractual hours was normal", and that he did not want to obtain input from an Occupational Health professional to make adjustments.
The amount of Aylott's compensation will be determined at a remedy hearing in July.
Other claims brought by Aylott were dismissed, and the tribunal found that BPP did not commit direct or indirect disability discrimination (contrary to breathless reports elsewhere).
A BPP spokeswoman said: "Whilst we respectfully acknowledge the findings of the tribunal, we have submitted an appeal, so cannot comment further on the case at this time."