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24th Oct 2023

Man on sick leave for 15 years sued his employer for not giving him a pay rise

Steve Hopkins

sick leave

He claimed he was being discriminated against

A man who had been on sick leave from his job for 15 years then tried to sue them for not giving him a payrise.

Ian Clifford went on sick leave from IBM for mental-health-related reasons in September 2008, and was still off work in 2013 having having been diagnosed with stage-four leukemia.

Clifford, 50, then raised a grievance with his employer, complaining that he had not received a salary bump during that five-year period.

In April 2013, Clifford reached a “compromise agreement” with IBM that meant he was put on the company’s sickness-and-accident plan, which entitled him to receive 75 per cent of his salary until he retired or otherwise ceased to be on the plan.

Under the plan, he would receive £54,028, or $67,732, per year until he turned 65 of his £72,037 salary.

The Mirror calculated the deal meant Clifford would have pocketed more than £1.5million from the company even though he had not worked since 2008.

He was also paid £8,685 to settle his holiday pay complaints in 2013 and agreed never to raise a further grievance about the same issues. In February 2022, Clifford took IBM to an employment tribunal claiming disability discrimination claims similar to those in his 2013 grievance.

The IT worker claimed he was treated unfavourably because he hadn’t had a pay rise since joining the plan in 2013 and suggested it was disability discrimination. He argued that inflation was causing the value of his income to “wither”.

An employment tribunal in Reading, Berkshire, dismissed his claim in March 2023 with a judge telling Clifford he had been given a “very substantial benefit” and “favourable treatment”.

Clifford started working for US software company, Lotus Development in 2000, shortly after it was purchased by IBM in June 1995.

In his case, Clifford argued that the point of the plan was to “give security to employees not able to work – that was not achieved if payments were forever frozen.” Employment Judge Paul Housego found:

“The claim is that the absence of increase in salary is disability discrimination because it is less favourable treatment than afforded those not disabled.

“This contention is not sustainable because only the disabled can benefit from the plan. It is not disability discrimination that the Plan is not even more generous. Even if the value of the £50,000 a year halved over 30 years, it is still a very substantial benefit.

“However, this is not the issue for, fundamentally, the terms of something given as a benefit to the disabled, and not available to those not disabled, cannot be less favourable treatment related to disability.

“It is more favourable treatment, not less.”

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