Three senior managers at Virgin Cross Country Trains have been ordered by an employment tribunal to attend training in disability rights law.
The Exeter tribunal said that Hugh Dunglinson, employee relations director, Diane Hempsall, head of occupational health and Adrian Bartlett, driver team manager at Virgin's Plymouth depot, be trained in the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), and in particular the duty to make reasonable adjustments.
Virgin Cross Country had already been found to be in breach of the DDA for failing to make reasonable adjustments to enable our client, a train driver, to return to light duties after an operation on his knee. The tribunal awarded our client £41,000 in damages and said it would be returning with a number of recommendations.
Along with training "within 3 months" for the named senior managers, it also ordered Virgin to pay our client his basic salary until he can either return to driving duties, is certified unfit for any duties or starts a suitable new job with Virgin. Our client will have to be informed of all non-safety critical vacancies at the Plymouth and Bristol depots, and the suitability of any new post or employment would include the requirement to make adjustments to take into account our client's disability, the tribunal said.
Keith Norman, general secretary of train drivers' union ASLEF which supported our client throughout his case said: "It is a measure of the lack of respect employers have for the law that they need to have their attention drawn to it by a court.
"If working people ignore the law, they find themselves in difficulties. If managers ignore it, they find themselves in the boardroom. I am pleased at the outcome of the case - but the underlying problem remains. Big business has no respect for the law of the land."
Vaughan Gething, our client's lawyer at Thompsons Solicitors said: "It is extremely unusual for a tribunal to make such explicit recommendations in relation to training. Virgin really has been disgraced for its lack of understanding of this extremely important area of the law.
"This is a very impressive outcome which I hope will set an example to other train operating companies and all other employers who want to avoid being publicly named and shamed in this way."
Our client added: "I'm pleased that the Exeter Employment Tribunal's recommendations reflect the severity of Virgin's disregard of this law, in particular that three key managers are required to undergo training to get the point across to them that reasonable adjustments have to be made, and that it is simply no longer acceptable, or indeed legal, to hide facelessly behind the black and white letter of collective agreements in cases such as this.
"Employers such as Virgin must be brought to book if in the future they continue to try to 'write off' employees who fall by the wayside through no fault of their own. Until this law came into force it was all too often the case that a lifelong railway person could find themselves cast aside like human trash simply because an inflexible employer would not consider making reasonable adjustments to accommodate a medically restricted individual. I believe the tribunal's decision and recommendations will have far reaching implications throughout the railway industry."
Notes to editors
ASLEF is the trade union which represents more than 18,000 - over 95% - of the UK's train drivers.
Thompsons is the UK's largest personal injury and employment rights law firm, winning over £150m in compensation for trade union members injured or denied their rights at work each year.
The Disability Discrimination Act - some of the main requirements:
Employers are under a duty to not discriminate against their disabled employees. There are three main aspects to disability discrimination. The first is a duty not to discriminate for a reason relating to a disability, the second is the duty to make reasonable adjustments. There is a possible defence of justification to these forms of disability discrimination unlike the law on race and sex discrimination.
There is now a third provision prohibiting direct discrimination against a disabled person simply be reason of their disability. There is no defence of justification to this new category of direct discrimination.
To gain the protection of the DDA a person has to satisfy the statutory definition of disability and this is normally a matter of dispute with employers when a tribunal claim is made.
The issue in this case primarily concerned the employer's duty to make reasonable adjustments for a disabled person. The duty to make reasonable adjustments is a wide one. However what is a reasonable adjustment will be decided by reference to the cost of the adjustments required, their effectiveness and the financial resources of the employer.
The duty to make adjustments can include amending the type of work, the hours of work, the place of work or transferring someone to a vacancy - even if only on a temporary basis. In his claim the tribunal ruled that Virgin Trains should have made more efforts in their search for alternative work for our client and he should have been paid whilst a proper search for alternative work was undertaken.