Judge slams PA’s ‘very demanding manager’ who ordered she take sick leave for medical appointments

A personal assistant has won £47,700 in compensation after a tribunal ruled that her boss harassed and discriminated against her following her breast cancer diagnosis.

Eimear Coghlan had been PA to the Hideaways Club’s chief executive, Poonam Dhawan-Leach, for more than a year when she learned she had an aggressive form of breast cancer in December 2014. 

A central London employment tribunal was told that Coghlan was initially treated with “sympathy and concern”. However, relations between the PA and her boss worsened as Coghlan increasingly needed to attend medical appointments during working hours, according to the Evening Standard. 

Although Coghlan had initially been allowed to work flexibly following her diagnosis, including working from home if she felt ill, this changed after Dhawan-Leach complained about Coghlan’s productivity.

Dhawan-Leach claimed the 34-year-old had “not done a single day’s work” in three months since her diagnosis. In an email, the chief exec added that she was unwilling to compromise everything “just so I can be kind and sensitive to one individual who is very unfortunately going through an extremely difficult personal health situation”.

Coghlan was also told to produce letters from her doctors confirming that she was well enough to work, and had to take at least half a day of sick leave, on reduced pay, if she had a medical appointment to attend during her regular working hours. 

In April 2015, three days before Coghlan was due to have surgery, Dhawan-Leach emailed her saying she had refused to take sick leave and therefore had to be treated normally, but added that she was “unfit to work”.

Coghlan told the tribunal that she left the office “sobbing”, before being signed off with stress.

One of Coghlan’s colleagues described her treatment as “hostile, spiteful and aggressive”. Meanwhile, the PA wrote in a note to herself: “I just want to work – why won’t they simply let me work? I’m feeling so discriminated against; it is difficult to put into words how I feel.”

The South Kensington-based property investment business claimed it had treated Coghlan fairly and made decisions in the interest of her welfare. Judge David Pearl disagreed, ruling that Coghlan, who resigned in September 2015, had suffered disability discrimination, harassment and injury to feelings. He awarded her £47,700 compensation.

Describing Dhawan-Leach as a “very demanding manager”, Pearl said the demands for medical letters “violated [Coghlan’s] dignity” and the company’s policy on taking sick leave for medical appointments was “irrational”.

Coghlan’s claims of direct discrimination, constructive dismissal and victimisation were dismissed.

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