Woman urged to resume work after seven years off sick takes case to tribunal

Kay Sunny in hospital''Picture: Solent News & Photo Agency
Kay Sunny in hospital''Picture: Solent News & Photo Agency

A clerk for cosmetics giant Estee Lauder told an employment tribunal she felt ‘intimidated’ by a letter from the company saying she was fit to return to work after seven years off sick.

Kay Sunny, 52, of Cowplain, is claiming she was discriminated on the grounds of her disability, as she was diagnosed with epilepsy following a stroke caused by a bleed on the brain.

Kay Sunny Picture: Morten Watkins/Solent News & Photo Agency

Kay Sunny Picture: Morten Watkins/Solent News & Photo Agency

She was asked to offer evidence to prove she was still incapacitated and warned her income was going to be stopped by the company’s employee insurance provider Unum.

Ms Sunny told the tribunal in Southampton that the letter from Estee Lauder HR Manager Catherine Campkin was ‘so matter of fact’ and ‘uncaring’ that it left her ‘hurt and confused.’

She added that she felt ‘intimidated’ to do what she was asked even though she had not had any correspondence with the company since falling ill back in 2006.

Indeed, the last time she had seen Ms Campkin face to face, she had collapsed in her office following a tonic-clonic epileptic seizure and an ambulance was called, the tribunal heard.

The letter left Ms Sunny ‘devastated’ and ‘absolutely horrified’ when she was asked to return to her job as a cash collection clerk in August 2013.

This was seven years after first collapsing on May 22 2006, when she was hospitalised and kept in the Neurological Unit at Southampton General Hospital.

She explained how her condition - which also includes being diagnosed with a genetic blood disorder - ‘shattered’ her life and left her feeling low and depressed.

During her time off work, she was paid a proportion of her salary under the company’s PHI insurance policy.

This was a form of income protection insurance provided by Unum, and she would remain on it until she was either fit to return to work or retired.

But her life was ‘once again shattered’ with the letter from Ms Campkin in August 2013 on behalf of Unum, which said she was ‘no longer incapacitated and in a position to return to work.’

Ms Sunny told the hearing: ‘I was devastated, absolutely horrified. It was an extreme shock.’

Anna Beale, for Estee Lauder, argued the back-and-forth correspondence with Ms Sunny did not constitute discrimination, but instead were requests made on behalf of Unum to help deal with her case.

She also said Unum were entitled to make such enquiries, and was keen to stress there was now no questioning of the claimant’s medical condition on behalf of the respondent.