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27th June 2024

Disabled Teacher Given “Career-Changing Ultimatum” Awarded £61k

School building

A disabled teacher who received a four-day “career-changing ultimatum” during a forced school transfer has been awarded £61k by an employment tribunal.

Allison Shearer, an English support teacher for Clydesdale Support Base in Carluke, refused to move to Kear Secondary School due to extreme anxiety believing it was inevitable that she would experience assault there and cause her menopausal symptoms to worsen if she moved. Eventually, in September 2023, Shearer was left with two alternative positions with a deadline of 4 days to decide or otherwise face termination, the tribunal ruled these as unreasonable alternatives especially “given the basis on which they were offered”.

Shearer had been a qualified teacher since 1987 and a support teacher for Clydesdale Support Base in Carluke since 2015. After experiencing stress, anxiety and depression caused by menopause she was left disabled and therefore, extremely concerned about the move to Kear Secondary School in August 2022 due to the poor reputation of the school’s staff safety. After her email of reasoned objections to the move was ignored by the headteacher due to his belief It would be the best utilisation of her skills, she commenced a period of absence from work due to work-related stress on 16 August 2022 and following an occupational health appointment on 14 October it was determined her work-related stress was due to the proposed move, which her therapist believed could “negatively impact psychological health”, the fear of violence and the lack of support.

On 15 November 2022, Shearer submitted a formal grievance and following the grievance meeting on 14 December it was concluded that there were rational business reasons for Shearer to work at Kear School, a decision Shearer felt was based on “false, inaccurate, incomplete and outdated information”.

On 26 September 2023, she received a letter terminating her employment on the grounds of capability, effective from 22 September 2023. Her executive director offered two alternative positions at a final capability hearing on 18 September 2023 with just 4 days to choose between the posts.

Employment judge Whitcombe ruled the dismissal amounted to discrimination due to her disability as she was not allowed to stay in her current position, which would have been proportionate, nor did they “carry out a reasonable search for alternative employment”.

On 31 May 2024, Judge Whitcombe concluded that Shearer would be awarded £18,647 for unfair dismissal with an additional compensation for unlawful discrimination amounting to £41,927.

Lawyer Samantha Dickinson believes “Such disputes are avoidable if employers take the time to create an inclusive culture and support their staff in understanding menopause and its impact.” Similarly, specialist employment lawyer, George Miller described the findings as “not surprising” and believes “If the employer had treated the employee as disabled from the start of the process, the outcome may have been different.”

The decision can be read here.

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