Death threat kitchen assistant awarded compensation26 March 2008
Attacked at Work
A kitchen assistant who was eventually forced to leave her job following a violent incident at the Coalville Resource Centre in Leicestershire has been awarded £40,000 compensation by her former employer, Leicestershire County Council. Because of inadequate measures to protect staff from abuse, Mrs Diana Gruber, 60, who lives in Thringstone, Coalville, brought the claim following an attack on her in February 2004. She was assisted with her claim by UNISON and Thompsons Solicitors in Nottingham.
At the time of the incident, Mrs Gruber was employed as a Kitchen Assistant by Leicestershire County Council at the Centre which caters for adults with learning difficulties. She had worked at the Centre for 10 years and enjoyed working with staff and centre users alike. As she was serving teas at the hatch between the kitchen and dining area, Mrs Gruber was approached by a man, one of the Centre’s users, who demanded a drink and verbally assaulted her.
This assault included threats to kill her and she feared for her own physical safety, especially as the man had carried out physical assaults previously. The man suffered from Fragile X Syndrome and had physically and verbally assaulted staff and other users of the Centre on several previous occasions.
Council had Failed to Properly Assess the Risk
Mrs Gruber argued that the Council had failed to properly assess the risk to her and colleagues and failed to adopt procedures to deal with it, such as one to one supervision which they did provide to comparable service users.
“I was terrified, this was a really nasty attack and I feared for my personal safety,” said Mrs Gruber. “I didn’t know what to do, I was very shaken and was terrified to return to work. I thought my employer would help me out, but actually their inability to act made it worse for me. They just didn’t see to care that I was on the receiving end of such an assault. I worked at the centre to help people, but when I needed support I was completely left in the lurch.”
Lilian Greenwood, Senior Regional Organiser for UNISON, said: “Mrs Gruber was owed a duty of care by her employer to protect her from physical and mental abuse. It isn’t always easy to judge the potential conduct of someone with a mental illness but it is possible to help out the victim of someone who’s been on the receiving end of this type of attack. Mrs Gruber deserved far more support from the Council than she received.”
Commenting, Mrs Gruber’s representative at Thompsons Solicitors in Nottingham, Peter Magee, said: “Mrs Gruber was seen by her employer’s Occupational Health Department who recommended a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. However, no-one followed this up. Indeed they failed to care for her throughout the period which she was off. Medical experts said that Mrs Gruber would have been able to return to some form of work with treatment but not her employment at the time of the assault.
"Mrs Gruber argued that her employer should have provided the man who assaulted her with one to one supervision. Mrs Gruber called witnesses to give evidence of another person at the centre with comparable behavioural problems who was provided with such supervision. Mrs Gruber understands that the Council has now employed someone to give one to one supervision to the man who assaulted her. This commenced on the 18 February 2008, the first day of the trial. Whilst Mrs Gruber is pleased that positive action has been taken because of her claim, she is unhappy that such action was not taken in the first place to protect her or other employees from such threats.”
Mrs Gruber was eventually medically retired on the grounds of ill health in July 2006.
For further information about Fragile X, please visit:
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