30/07/2008

HIV Worker Sues Fire Brigade For Discrimination

A fire service worker with HIV is suing Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service claiming disability discrimination.

Michael Ashton told an Employment Tribunal that he had to take leave from work because of his condition.

Mr Ashton, who had already five years service completed prior to his diagnosis in 2006, claims management threatened disclipinary action for too many absences.

The tribunal heard that Mr Ashton lodged a formal grievance against the brigade's management because of the way he was treated.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is giving its support to Mr Ashton.

FBU Regional Secretary Kevin Brown said: "Manchester Fire Service's attitude is badly out-dated and totally unacceptable. Once again poor treatment of its firefighters has made its way into the headlines.

"It is distressing enough to be diagnosed with a very serious illness without your employer making things ten times worse. They talk the language of modernisation, while practising old-fashioned discrimination.

"Most fire services in the north west has an HIV policy, Manchester hasn't. The result is a case study in how not to treat an employee diagnosed with a serious illness."

Mr Ashton informed his department boss of his condition on 3 August and went on sick leave on 11 August.

He then took further leave in September, October and December.

In January he took sick leave again with work-related stress.

He told the Tribunal that his own manager had told him that even though his sickness was covered under the Disability Discrimination Act, he could still be found "incapable" of doing his job and be sacked.

Mr Ashton was told there was "no policy in place" in regards to the brigade's HIV policy when he asked for a copy. He was advised that "one was being produced".

Mr Ashton told the hearing that he was "still struggling to come to terms" with his diagnosis and he felt that he had been "treated unfairly".

In June last year, he made a request for disability leave which was not granted and later submitted his resignation on the grounds of ill health but this was not accepted.

The fire service denies discrimination and the hearing at the Employment Tribunal Service is scheduled to last for three days.

(DS)

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