Asda shop worker with dementia wins age harassment claim after manager asked: do you want to retire?

A shop worker with dementia has won an age harassment claim against Asda after bosses asked her if she wanted to retire. 

Joan Hutchinson resigned after the company created a “humiliating environment” for the pensioner, with her manager making her feel “too old to be there”, a tribunal heard. 

The then 73-year-old had worked at the supermarket branch in Deeside, Wales for 20 years.

In 2020, Mrs Hutchinson was formally diagnosed with dementia after showing a number of symptoms for the past three years. 

During this time, colleagues “violated her dignity” by rummaging through her bag to help her find her personal effects, the employment tribunal heard. 

On another occasion, the supermarket changed her hours so she did not have to drive in the dark, the panel heard. 

Mrs Hutchinson was later forced to give up driving after going the wrong way around a roundabout, while at work she was often seen to be “forgetful and confused”, the tribunal heard.

However, Mrs Hutchinson refused to speak to the supermarket’s occupational health department or have her bosses speak to her family.

While shielding during the first national lockdown, Stacey Weston-Laing, her manager, who had been helping deliver groceries to her door, asked her in several telephone conversations if she wanted to retire. 

The tribunal found the question to be discriminatory, as “it is something that would not have been raised with an employee who was not of retirement age in similar circumstances in terms of presenting medical symptoms”.

When she returned to work at the supermarket, another colleague "violated her dignity" by rummaging through Mrs Hutchinson’s bag to help when she could not find her keys and bus pass.

Conduct ‘amounted to disability-related harassment’

The shop worker eventually retired on September 25 2020 and took the retail giant to the tribunal,. She won her claims of age and disability discrimination, as well as constructive dismissal.

The tribunal heard how Ms Weston-Laing and a number of other colleagues became concerned about Mrs Hutchinson “appearing confused, losing keys and forgetting things”.

During her 12-week isolation during the first lockdown, Ms Weston-Laing brought her shopping while she was isolating and said she would be happy to drop groceries off if she needed anything.

But Joanne Clitherow, Mrs Hutchinson’s daughter, told the tribunal that her mother said Ms Weston-Laing had twice asked if she wanted to retire during a telephone conversation over lockdown.

Her mother said “no” and had been upset, as she felt they did not want her at Asda any more.

Ms Weston-Laing told the tribunal it was Mrs Hutchinson who had initiated the subject, as she was scared of coming back to work having seen things on the news, and wanted to know what would happen if she decided to retire.

However, the tribunal found it was the manager who had raised the possibility of retirement “on more than one occasion”. 

Alison Frazer, the employment judge, concluded: “The conduct was unwanted and it related to her condition as it was brought about by her memory impairment.

“It had the effect of violating her dignity. We found that that act amounted to disability-related harassment.”

‘Unreasonable’ to ask about retirement

Last month, a tribunal ruled that asking elderly workers when they plan to retire is age discrimination, after a Ministry of Defence civil servant successfully sued his employer.

Ian Tapping, an experienced official, who was in his 60s, had launched a grievance against bosses and was worried he was going to lose his job.

During a meeting with human resources to discuss his concerns, his plans for retirement were raised, an employment panel heard.

James Bax, the employment judge, said: “In the circumstances of someone who wanted to know that his position was secure, it was unreasonable to ask him to consider when he intended to retire."

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