A DWP employee was unfairly dismissed after his depression caused him to look at strangers’ records without permission.
The Scunthorpe employee, known as ‘Mr M’, was fired after accessing the records for reasons he couldn’t explain.
An employment tribunal found his employer had repeatedly ignored his claims he was suffering from depression and mental health problems which affected his decisions.
Mr M had worked for the Department of Work and Pensions for 39 years with a perfect record, and was looking forward to partial retirement.
He broke the rules about accessing records three times in 2020 while working in the Universal Credit department.
He used the DWP’s database to access his son’s details on one occasion out of concern he was in financial difficulty – something he had never done before.
At other times, he looked at the records of four people he didn’t know and had no connection to.
Mr M claimed he had accidentally pasted in a postcode into the database and opened the files without meaning to.
He said in report to his line manager about the mistake: “I do not know why I looked at the accounts I did. I’ve gained nothing from this.
“I have not dealt with working from home/lockdown well at all and my mental health has deteriorated considerably.”
He added that he “wasn’t in his right mind” at the time and had no reason to jeopardise his retirement after nearly 40 years of work.
He was also going through personal difficulties, and said colleagues had noticed he was acting out of character, including one “stand up slanging match”.
He was signed off from work with depression in July.
An investigation was launched, and he was suspended without pay for gross misconduct.
Mr M repeatedly told investigators said he was suffering from stress, anxiety and depression, which was backed up by two occupational health reports.
However, he was never asked for doctors’ evidence as part of the investigation, and wasn’t told that he could provide any.
The senior leader said on several occasions that mental health was “not an excuse”.
Mr M was dismissed in November 2020, and he also lost an appeal that his employer hadn’t taken his illness into account.
However, nearly a year later, an employment tribunal in Hull has ruled that the dismissal had been unfair.
It said that the DWP had ignored evidence that his actions were clearly affected by mental health.
“In our judgement, no reasonable employer faced with the clear, repeated assertions from the claimant about the impact of his mental health would have dismissed their employee without making further enquiries or explicitly inviting the claimant to produce further evidence. And particularly an employer the size of and with the resources of the DWP,” the tribunal report said.
“There was clear information from the claimant that his decision had been affected by his mental health and the respondent failed to undertake any further investigations into that.”
The tribunal hasn’t made a recommendation on how the dismissal should be resolved yet.
A DWP spokesperson said: “We have received the tribunal’s judgement but as this is an ongoing case, it would be inappropriate for us to comment.”