You can’t have missed the Bank’s Mental Health PR campaign, it’s been on almost every advertising medium going. Just this month the Bank announced it will train 2500 mental health ‘Advocates’.
But look behind the PR facade and a different Lloyds attitude to mental health is revealed.
In February, an Employment Tribunal gave its verdict in a disability discrimination claim brought by BTU on behalf of a disabled member who suffers from severe mental health issues caused by stress at work.
The Tribunal panel, consisting of an Employment Judge and two wing members, came to the unanimous decision that Lloyds had failed to make reasonable adjustments for the disabled member of staff, despite her repeated requests for help over a substantial period of time.
The Judgement was a stark warning to the Bank that warm words and glossy PR campaigns fool no one: Employment Tribunals will judge Lloyds on what it does not what it says.
If the Bank wants to live up to the reputation its public relations advisers aspire to, Executive Management and the HR function are going to have to change their approach to mental health fundamentally.
The Member’s Story
The member had worked for the Bank for over 30 years. She was absent from work for a significant period of time as a result of the stress she suffered following a bullying and harassment grievance made by her against her line manager. This started after she blew the whistle on fragility in the Bank’s payment systems, pointing out weaknesses that were a serious risk not just to Lloyds and its customers but to the integrity of the UK payment infrastructure.
The stress left her with severe mental and physical symptoms which have had a substantial adverse effect on her day-to-day life.
With our support, she fought the Bank tooth and nail to get back to work in a new role away from her stressors, even though it was clear from the start that the Bank was going to do nothing to help her find another job. She eventually got herself into a new role in a different team with an entirely different local management attitude, but it was a fight every step of the way. So much for Lloyds supporting staff with mental health issues!
Living in a Constant State of Fear
But with all the changes in the Bank, our member lives in a constant state of ‘absolute dread and fear’ that she will be forced to work with the stressors again.
Accordingly, she asked the Bank for an assurance that she would not have to work with two named people. The Bank refused.
Lloyds’ apparent lack of concern for the member left her with no option but to bring the case to an Employment Tribunal so that her request and the Bank’s actions could be scrutinised by experts who would dig beneath the Bank’s PR driven facade.
The Tribunal found that the Bank failed to make a reasonable adjustment by not giving an undertaking to the member that she would not have to work with the people who had caused her stress. The Judge said:
“If the Claimant was physically disabled for example, and the reorganisation made her commute to work impossible or very difficult, the Tribunal has no doubt that alternative positions would be considered and offered where possible.
The Respondent refused to make an undertaking on any basis. It did not ask the Claimant if other wording would alleviate her concerns. It simply offered words of comfort ie ‘best efforts’, ‘best endeavours.’ In the Claimant’s particular circumstances, the Tribunal finds that giving an undertaking in the terms that the Claimant suggested was reasonable and that consequently the Respondent failed to make reasonable adjustments.”
The Role of the Chief Executive
This is particularly significant given the fact that in May 2018, Antonio Horta-Osório, Lloyds Banking Group CEO wrote the following:
“When an employee breaks a leg or suffers an infection, we know how to respond. Mental health should be dealt with in the same way. With a culture of adequate support and sufficient time off, an employee can return to work with confidence and without embarrassment.”
“Changing the corporate mindset on mental health is, I believe, the most fundamental step towards changing things for the better. We need to remove any trace of stigma.”
We want to know whether he approved the action taken in this case because, as the Judgement shows, the views and principles that Horta-Osório espouses were not borne out in practice.
If Mr Horta-Osório doesn’t know about this case, which would seem odd, he will do now because we’ll be delivering a copy of this newsletter to his office. As the self-appointed champion of mental health at Lloyds Bank, all eyes will be on him to see what he does about it. If he did know about it he needs to be honest and say why he insisted on fighting our member.
The new mental health ‘Advocate’ scheme launched this month aims to “look at the main issues affecting colleagues” and equip them with “the skills and knowledge to protect their mental health, as well as supporting colleagues living with ongoing mental health conditions to succeed and thrive at work.”
Should we all be impressed? Not at all: quite clearly, the disabled member should not have had to go through the enormous stress she suffered both before and at the Tribunal and we wait to see what if anything changes. Our bet is that although there will be some examples of good management of people with mental health issues, as there have always been, when the chips are down bullies in important management positions will continue to be supported against junior complainants.
The Bank’s reaction to the Judgement? It disputes it and has submitted an appeal, which will turn the screw yet further on someone who is already badly damaged.