TOM UTLEY: £15,000 for hurt feelings after being left out of a work WhatsApp group? I’d count it as a blessing!

How much are your feelings worth? I ask because some people’s seem to be very pricey — and extraordinarily fragile, too.

So it appears, anyway, from this week’s news that an employment tribunal has awarded a plumber £15,000 compensation for injury to his feelings, after he was left out of a work WhatsApp chat group while he was off sick with a bad back.

The award was part of a whacking £134,411 settlement granted to Mark Brosnan, 60, by Employment Judge Sarah George, who ruled that his employers — Coalo, a facilities management company wholly owned by the London Borough of Hounslow — had done ‘literally nothing’ to ease his return to work after his back trouble.

He resigned from the company in December 2021, claiming (among other things) unfair dismissal. This week, at the hearing in Watford, Hertfordshire, his claim was upheld.

I note, by the way, that the judge awarded Mr Brosnan only £7,000 for the damage to his back, which he is said to have sustained while he was working in a confined space with insufficient training.

Excluding colleagues from WhatsApp group chats can be discrimination, a judge has ruled (Stock Image)

This seems to suggest that, at £15,000, his hurt feelings were more than twice as painful as his physical injury.

As for that WhatsApp group, set up to pass on information to employees on matters such as health and safety, Employment Judge George said Mr Brosnan’s exclusion from the chat while he was sick was an ‘unfavourable act’, which amounted to disability discrimination.

‘Some employers do not contact employees at all during sickness absence, for fear of exacerbating their ill health or bothering them with work-related matters at a time when they should be recuperating,’ she said.

‘But that cannot be presumed and in the absence of evidence put forward by [Coalo], I’m not satisfied that there was any justification for this.’

Well, all I can say is that I must be an extraordinarily insensitive brute, since I wouldn’t feel in the least bit hurt — let alone 15,000 quids’ worth — if my employers were to exclude me from the messages they send to all staff.

As it is, they bombard me daily with dozens of emails, most of them headed ‘URGENT: LEGAL WARNING’, listing the latest court injunctions, complaints to the Press regulator and pleas for privacy from celebrities I’ve never heard of.

Others inform me of the company’s support services, on hand to protect my mental and physical wellbeing (lost causes, I fear, since I’m a grumpy old so-and-so, with a lethal taste for alcohol and cigarettes). The constant alerts on my smartphone drive me half mad.

I hasten to say that I’m not blaming my bosses at the Mail. After all, the mainstream British Press is about the most tightly regulated in the free world and no doubt this paper’s publishers could find themselves in all sorts of legal trouble if they failed to keep employees up to date. 

I also feel I have to read every new message as it arrives in my inbox, on the incredibly unlikely off-chance that one of those urgent warnings might be directly relevant to my work.

Mr Brosnan started working in 2016 for Coalo, a company which is wholly owned by the London Borough of Hounslow and based in Feltham, west London (in the above building)

Mr Brosnan started working in 2016 for Coalo, a company which is wholly owned by the London Borough of Hounslow and based in Feltham, west London (in the above building)

It doesn’t half interfere with my concentration, I can tell you, when I’m on the sofa at home, where I spend most of my life these days, struggling to remember if I took my blood pressure pill after lunch.

But if all these emails are irritating, I’d find it even worse if my masters chose to communicate through a WhatsApp group. For while emails make only a low clunking sound when they drop into my inbox, my mobile emits a piercing beep whenever a WhatsApp message arrives.

This invariably sets our dog yapping, as if she thinks aliens are invading. With every WhatsApp beep, she bolts into the garden through the dog flap, barking her head off and infuriating the neighbours.

Indeed, I stick with WhatsApp only because it’s our sons’ preferred means of sending photographs of our grandchildren and our neighbours’ forum for sharing tips on reliable tradesmen or useful information of local interest.

Mr Brosnan may feel terribly hurt that he was left off his employers’ WhatsApp group. If such a thing happened to me, I would count it a blessing.

Mind you, this sensitive plumber is far from the only delicate soul who has enjoyed the odd windfall from an employment tribunal, for reasons that some of us may find bewildering.

Take the supermarket worker who won a payout of £8,962.30 from Asda last month, after one of her bosses left her ‘extremely upset’ when they told her to get back to work from the quiet room where she was taking an extra break, which had been permitted by a manager because she was suffering from stress.

Or consider the £60,000 taxpayers have had to fork out to four police officers who were ordered to shave off their beards. 

They, too, were said to be ‘extremely upset’, poor dears, by Police Scotland’s anti-beard policy, which inevitably has since been abandoned. 

Or how about the female Ministry of Defence police officer, sacked for failing a fitness test, who won a sex discrimination case because of the ‘innate biological differences’ between men and women?

For every successful claimant, meanwhile, others sue their bosses on frankly preposterous grounds. Though these cases are often rejected by tribunals, they still involve employers in endless hours of paperwork and costs that can rarely be recovered from the losing side.

Take the Polish delivery driver who was sacked for stealing parcels from his employer — then sued for unfair dismissal when he was found out.

Then there was the Chinese applicant who failed to win a job as a security officer — and promptly sought £781,000 damages, alleging racial discrimination at his interview.

The ruling was made during a case at Watford Employment Tribunal in Hertfordshire (pictured)

The ruling was made during a case at Watford Employment Tribunal in Hertfordshire (pictured)

‘I said I like table tennis, which is the most popular sport in China,’ he said. ‘This recruiting management team have no intention of promoting diversity of cultures within working environment.’

As for that exorbitant demand for compensation, he calculated this on the basis that he had been deprived of 22 years’ earnings of £35,000 until his proposed retirement at 80!

Meanwhile, workers’ rights are so deeply entrenched in this country that huge numbers of civil servants and others refuse to turn up for work, insisting on ‘working from home’ more than two years after the last lockdown was lifted.

What is so astonishing is that there’s apparently nothing ministers or other employers can do, under the present law, to force the WFH crew to pull their weight in the workplace. Indeed, given how heavily the law is weighted against employers these days, I often wonder why anyone troubles to start a business.

True, we can all see that the plight of employers, on whom our hopes of future prosperity depend absolutely, would become even more precarious under Sir Keir Starmer.

After all, when the Opposition leader let slip that he intended to keep Britain aligned with Brussels law, he made no secret of the fact that he was thinking in particular of the EU’s guarantees of workers’ rights.

But how can cases like Mr Brosnan’s keep coming before employment tribunals, 13 years after a Tory-led Government came to power and seven years after the country voted to break free from the sclerotic bureaucracy of the EU?

Invoking the memory of the great Margaret Thatcher, and linking her upbringing to his own, Rishi Sunak told the Tory conference this week: ‘This Conservative Party, the party of the grocer’s daughter and the pharmacist’s son, will always be the party of enterprise, the party of small business.’

At the risk of hurting a few feelings along the way, couldn’t he prove it by hacking through the jungle of red tape that costs taxpayers a fortune and holds businesses back?