Dementia suffering employee 'had dignity violated' at ASDA

An ASDA employee has won her claim of unfair dismissal, and disability and age discrimination, after one of her colleagues suggested she should retire.

Joan Hutchinson worked for the Queensferry store of the supermarket chain for 20 years before she retired in September 2020.

Hutchinson was first diagnosed with dementia in October 2019 after her son had noticed her displaying some odd behaviours.

She didn’t inform ASDA of her condition and her section leader Stacey Weston-Laing grew concerned about her performance stating that she had been “appearing confused, losing keys and forgetting things”.

Within a few months she was forced to take time off work, shielding during the first Covid lockdown.

During this period, Weston-Laing was supportive of Hutchinson, delivering her food and speaking to her on the phone frequently.

However, Hutchinson told her daughter that Weston-Laing had asked her at least twice whether she wanted to retire, upsetting her and leaving her feeling that ASDA “did not want her anymore”.

A meeting was held about Hutchinson’s return to work regarding the new start times and social distancing requirements.

Hutchinson’s daughter was in attendance for support and raised the subject that her mother had been asked about retirement on more than one occasion. She was concerned that her mother may be bullied or harassed going forward.

Weston-Laing was concerned about Hutchinson’s behaviour once she returned to work.

She noted that she appeared “flustered” and “would take longer to work stock and was jittery trying to hang returns”.

An incident occurred where Hutchinson became confused about how she would get home and couldn’t find her keys and bus pass.

A deputy store manager went through her bag and found them but did so without her permission which left Hutchinson feeling upset.

A meeting was held to review the recent events and Hutchinson became “upset and aggressive” and said: “I can’t do my job, I will leave.”

She left the meeting and was signed off sick.

In September, Hutchinson’s son Chris wrote a letter of resignation on his mother’s behalf, stating she had been discriminated against on the grounds of her age and disability.

ASDA offered her the chance to reconsider but she declined, and her employment was terminated on 6 October 2020.

The case went to the Employment Tribunal which ruled in favour of Hutchinson.

It noted that the numerous suggestions of retirement may have been said in a ‘well-meaning way’ but they breached the “implied term of trust and confidence” between employee and employer and amounted to age and disability-related harassment.

The colleague going through Hutchinson’s bag without permission “had the effect of violating her dignity”, noting the conduct was unwanted and related to her condition because it was brought about by her memory impairment and so amounted to disability-related harassment. 

Please contact us if you would like to know more about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law.

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