Guest post from Tom. After being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, he was shocked to be dismissed from a job he loved as an engineer. With the support of his family and a firm of local solicitors, he won his case for unfair dismissal as a result of disability discrimination.
Up until early last year I had a job I loved as an engineer at a cleaning company. I used to wake up each morning and think “what’s today got in store?” I’d had a couple of different jobs since leaving the army but this was by far my favourite.
About ten months after I started working there I started to get twinges and a weakness in my arm. At first I put it down to a strain caused by walking our dogs, but when it got worse I went to the doctors.
Motor Neurone Disease has taken the lives of my Dad, my Uncle and my sister, so when I got the diagnosis it didn’t come as a surprise. I spotted the signs and even told the consultant what it was before she broke the news.
Most people know it as the disease that Stephen Hawking has got, it’s a terminal condition that attacks the nerves in the brain and spinal cord.
At this time I was fit enough to walk my dogs five miles before work each morning and I decided that I wanted to stay active and stay in the job I loved as long as I could.
I decided to be open about things and tell my boss that I’d been diagnosed with the condition. I said that I’d know when it got to the point where I could no longer work, I thought he understood.
My wife Linda and I were coming up to our 40th anniversary and we really needed a break – so we took a fortnight’s holiday to the Caribbean. When we got back I was feeling really well rested and raring to get back to work. But on my first day back I was invited to a meeting with the HR Manager as soon as I arrived in at 8am – I knew something was up. It was the first time ever that I’d had to speak with her.
She took me into an office and asked how I was feeling. I said I felt great and was really enjoying my job. Then she left the room and went to speak to the company’s owner in private. When she returned she told me that I no longer had a job. I hadn’t had a day off sick, so it came as a massive shock.
It felt like because of my illness I’d been thrown on the scrap heap – it was a double blow, first the illness and then being sacked. I thought to myself – what have I done wrong? The only thing I’ve done is to have the disease.
I went into a depression, wouldn’t go out of the house, I stopped doing the gardening and I even gave away my season tickets for Newcastle football club away, and I’m a massive fan. If it hadn’t been for my wife Linda, well, I don’t know what I would have done.
Then my brother said that he wasn’t sure if what they’d done was legal. I got in touch with my local solicitors Muckle LLP and they took up my case.
It went to an employment tribunal and they said I’d been unfairly dismissed – subjected to disability discrimination. After the hearing I was awarded damages. But I wish I’d just been able to keep my job.
I think my health has deteriorated as a result of losing my job. I liked going to work, I liked being active, and without my job to get up for each day, I haven’t been as active as I was and it shows. My legs have become very weak and I have to use a wheelchair. I can’t walk the dogs any more.
The case was really stressful too and there were definitely times when I felt like giving up, but my wife, Linda, and my family kept me going. And it was worth it, I wanted to stand up for my rights. I want all employers to know that people who are disabled should be treated with the same dignity and respect as anyone else.
Today Scope published a new report exploring disabled people’s working lives. The report – ‘A million futures’ – shows that last year alone, 220,000 more disabled people fell out of work than found a new job.