Injured community worker gets compensation and lost wages02 July 2012
Mrs Cole injured her shoulder whilst collapsing and moving tables at the centre
A community centre caretaker who injured her shoulder at work but was then refused the chance to return to her job full time - even though she was healthy and wanted to do so - has been awarded compensation from an Employment Tribunal.
UNISON member Monica Cole, 47, from Neath, will be repaid £4,832 for wages lost during a six month period when her employers, Blaenhoddan Community Council, refused to allow her to return to her full time hours, even though she had fully recovered from a workplace accident.
Mrs Cole injured her shoulder whilst collapsing and moving tables at the centre. The community centre admitted liability for the accident and settled a personal injury claim out of court for £9,500.
When Mrs Cole kept working after her accident the community centre, worried that working would aggravate her injury, asked her to stop work in April 2010. In August that year Mrs Cole was offered a phased return to work but she turned it down on the grounds that the duties she was expected to complete could not be carried out in the time allocated. Instead she asked if she could return to work full time. Her request was refused.
In November 2010 she was given the all clear by her GP to return to full time. The community centre again insisted on a phased return to work. In March the next year, Mrs Cole was warned she would lose her job if she did not accept the phased return, giving her no choice but to accept 50% of her salary for what was said to be 10 hours a week of work, but in fact took her far longer. Mrs Cole didn’t return to her full time hours until May 2011, almost six months after her GP had said she was able to do so.
Mrs Cole was supported in her dispute by her trade union, UNISON, which instructed its lawyers Thompsons Solicitors to pursue her case in Employment Tribunal. The Tribunal found that whilst the council was acting in good faith, it had breached contractual agreements with Mrs Cole in reducing her hours and wages. It ordered that the deduction in Mrs Coles wages from November 2010 to May 2011 be paid.
Mrs Cole said: “It has been a worrying and frustrating time. I wanted to get back to work as soon as possible but felt that I wasn't being listened to. It seemed ludicrous to me that the GP said I was fit to return to work but it took another six months for me to get back to my full time position. I’m grateful to the support I’ve received from UNISON and Thompsons. I was seriously concerned that I’d lose my job but they helped me to fight for my rights. I’m not sure what I would have done without their help.”
Margaret Thomas, UNISON regional secretary for Wales, said:
“Mrs Cole should have been allowed to return to her full time job when she was healthy and ready to do so. Times are tough – not many families could make do with only half of their wages. It is even more galling that Mrs Cole regularly had to do more hours to get her job done. We were more than pleased to help her to take this case and to win back her right to work full time.”
Claire Kirby from Thompsons Solicitors added: “Mrs Cole had a fit note to return to full time work but her employer refused. Instead her hours were dictated and she was only paid for the hours she worked. It was a clear breach of her contract of employment and put Mrs Cole in a vulnerable financial position.”