An Editor and the Walrus of love

By: Michael Scutt

Date: 27 July 2010

WalrusIn my last job on a legal paper, my favourite colleague was our pool sub-editor. Alcoholic and unstable, Bella lived for the evenings, in particular her longstanding passion for the 'Walrus of Love', Barry White. She had been attached to Barry for thirty years, despite his girth and numerous marriages, and lost the plot - as well the ability to spell - at just the thought of his throbbing vocals.

One day the subs’ phone rang. Bella, who was sending the issue to the printer, threw it down. Through high-pitched, incoherent shrieks, we established that Barry, who had been due to arrive in the UK to perform, was having a "life-threatening" health scare. She was so hysterical, we had to send her home. What’s the HR position on that? 

Michael Scutt writes:

Firstly we shouldn’t judge this lady just because of her fondness for Barry White.  Look beyond that.  Instead consider that this is a person who has just had a nasty shock and is very upset. What would be the position if, say, it was a close family member or partner who  had a “life-threatening “ health scare?  In that situation it would not be that remarkable if she became hysterical and had to be sent home.

The real issue here is whether she was acting genuinely or not.  If she was “hamming it up” then there might be a call for disciplinary proceedings, following a proper investigation.  However, care needs to be taken because the lady was said to be unstable and an alcoholic.  A mental illness, such as depression, may qualify as a disability within the meaning of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (and as amended).  Alcoholism doesn’t qualify, although it might if it was caused by her depression.  The point to bear in mind is that if this lady is treated less favourably than a non-disabled person because of her disability she might be able to bring a claim for discrimination.  They can be very expensive and time consuming to deal with.

Tread very carefully before proceeding. 

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