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Disability discrimination

Barbara Stensland

Blogs

02.03.17

5 minutes, 33 seconds

When you are going through a nightmarish MS diagnostic process, work becomes a safe haven, a refuge. It provides badly-needed routine and a sense of continued identity in an uncertain world of lumbar punctures, blood tests and inconclusive appointments with medical consultants.
As your world collapses, one thing is certain; you can still do your job, and you can do it well. And your trusted colleagues will support you. After all, you are a valued member of the team.

Until one rainy Monday, after making coffee for the three other staff members in your tight-knit office, you are called into the conference room and unceremoniously sacked.
You are instructed to gather your belongings and leave immediately. And now the last five months make sense. The bullying, the silent treatment, the snide remarks. You did not take the hint and leave, so they will do it for you.

This happened to me in 2012. It rendered me scared, anxious and close to a nervous breakdown, yet I was determined to prove to my tormentors that I was capable.
I had even gone back to work straight after a lumbar puncture. The pain was excruciating and I was almost delirious with the palpable squeeze on my brain, but I gamely iced fairy cakes for a fair to be held the next day.

I worked twice as hard, initiated projects which were never followed through. My duties were stripped from me, one by one. I was shunned. It was brutal.

Before I left that morning, I shakily negotiated three month’s work from home. It was October, I needed to get through Christmas. In their desire to see me off the premises, my colleagues agreed and I was followed to the car park to ensure I had not taken company property.
When I asked for a reason behind my sacking, I was told I was a ‘liability’.

When I got home, I cried. I cried for most of the following three months. Until, by chance, I was given the number of an employment lawyer who also had MS.

After speaking with her, it soon became clear my employers had broken every law in the book, too numerous to mention here. The case was infallible, so we filed papers against all three of them.

They wanted to settle out of court, which, as I was still recovering from aggressive MS treatment, I happily accepted. The amount was pitifully low. I stopped my lawyer from negotiating higher.

Why? Perhaps I was wrong. It was never about the money, although perhaps it should have been. All I wanted was enough to take my son on a trip to New York, as a thank-you for his tolerance through the dark times. And believe me, they were very dark. Bullying is insidious and it inveigles its way inside your psyche. Coupled with a possible MS diagnosis, it was toxic.
I still ask myself why, when I was most in need of compassion, those three people decided to embark upon a campaign of intimidation and cruelty.

Sadly, since my own experience, I have been involved in numerous cases which indicated mine is not an isolated incidence.

This is still happening.

If you are experiencing discrimination at work since your MS diagnosis, here are some tips I wish I had known:

  • Start a notebook, jotting down every single occasion/episode you believe you have been discriminated against, not forgetting to write dates, times and who is involved. This will prove vital, should you need to take legal advice.
  • If you have a union at work, make contact with them. Failing that, most employment lawyers offer a free first consultation.
  • MS nurses are amazing and can provide emotional and practical support, so get in touch with them.
  • Above all, remember this is not your fault. There are legal rights in place to protect you. Look after yourself, confide in some close friends and don’t forget, bullies are weak people and they can be beaten.

GZEMEA.MS.17.02.0053b

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