An NHS worker who was threatened with legal action after telling bosses he felt suicidal has been awarded almost £100,000 in compensation and damages.
Ambulance mechanic Gordon Flemming was told he would be referred to lawyers if he continued to send letters describing ‘ending it all’.
Employment judges described the blunt response from the East of England NHS Trust was the ‘most appalling’ they had seen in 60 years of combined service.
They awarded Mr Flemming £96,500 for disability discrimination, loss of earnings and unfair dismissal.
Mr Flemming, from Norwich, Norfolk, was left mentally broken after suffering a heart attack at work during a row with a line manager in 2012.
He then spent almost three years on sick leave, working only 13 days before being dismissed in November 2015 – a dismissal which has now been ruled unfair.
In an email sent in June 2015, Mr Flemming accused bosses of ‘corporate bullying on such a scale that I have contemplated ending it all, does nobody care about that?’
After suffering a heart attack at work during a row with a manager, Gordon Fleming accused NHS bosses of ‘corporate bullying on such a scale that I have contemplated ending it all’ – but the HR head replied to warn subsequent such letters would be passed to the Trust’s solicitors
But in the reply from Ruth McAll, interim director of HR, Mr Flemming was threatened with legal action.
It said: ‘Dear Gordon, I appreciate you may have mental health problems, but this letter is not acceptable.
‘In future do not write to anyone else in the trust except me. If you continue to write such letters we will refer them to our solicitors. Ruth.’
In his ruling, employment judge Richard Cassell slammed the conduct of Ms McAll, who sent her response late on a Sunday night.
He said: ‘We use the word ‘appalling’ advisedly.
‘An employee having indicated that he was seriously contemplating suicide was told not to write accordingly otherwise such letters would be referred to the Trust’s solicitors.
‘We remind ourselves that as interim Director of HR she was the head of HR for a substantial employer in the public sector employing 4,000 members of staff. She was responsible for the direction of HR as the guardian of good practice.
‘We have recorded the times at which the emails were sent and note that the email from Ruth McAll was sent on a Sunday night. We did not hear from Ruth McAll and we can only speculate as to why she responded as she did.’
Mr Flemming won his employment tribunal in February but has now been awarded damages.
Yasmin Rafiq, Interim Director of People and Culture said: ‘East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust would like to apologise for its former conduct towards Mr Flemming’
The NHS Trust was ordered to pay £62,000 for loss of earnings, £20,000 for psychiatric injury and £10,000 for injury to his feelings.
Another £4,000 was awarded for his unfair dismissal after a secret recording at a disciplinary hearing caught an NHS boss describing ‘pummelling’ Mr Flemming.
During a break Robert Ashford, then deputy director for operations, said: ‘I mean getting up and pummelling it [his viewpoint] into [Mr Flemming] with my fists is probably not appropriate in terms of policy, is it?’
The judges said: ‘It seems to us beyond belief that someone conducting a disciplinary hearing would have felt it appropriate to use the language that he did.’
Speaking about the tribunal to the BBC, Mr Flemming said the ambulance service was ‘there to save lives, not destroy them – but that is what they did to me’.
‘They destroyed my life and destroyed my health,’ he said.
Yasmin Rafiq, Interim Director of People and Culture said: ‘East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust would like to apologise for its former conduct towards Mr Flemming.
‘The findings outlined in the tribunal judgement are now being remedied and our commitment is to provide a respectful working environment, enabling employees to be committed to providing quality of care to our patients.
‘We are pleased that we were subsequently able to work with Mr Flemming to avoid a further lengthy and stressful hearing for him.’