BOSSES at Sellafield breached disability discrimination law by sacking a former soldier while he was battling against post-traumatic stress disorder, a tribunal has ruled.

Former Royal Tank Regiment corporal Chris Roberts, 38, took Sellafield Limited to court after claiming his dismissal following repeated absences was discrimination, because his behaviour was directly linked to his diagnosed mental health condition.

In a written judgement, following a four-day hearing in Manchester, the tribunal judge ruled in his favour but said that Sellafield had acted 'in good faith' and that their 'approach was tolerant and flexible'.

Employed at Sellafield for more than seven years, latterly as a training instructor, Mr Roberts was a former soldier who saw active service in Afghanistan and as a result was diagnosed with PTSD.

He was diagnosed with this and a depressive illness in 2017, the tribunal heard.

He began his Sellafield career in 2013, initially as an emergency management planner and then a training instructor.

The hearing was told he was doing his job well but in early 2017 he became unwell.

A psychiatric assessment of his PTSD highlighted one of the symptoms as a loss of interests and a tendency to socially isolate.

In September, 2017, the tribunal heard, he had time off to allow “his mind to process the depth of what he went through in Afghanistan” and he asked the GP to sign him off work for a month.

He also began "healing work" with the charity Combat Stress.

The hearing was told about a series of absences from work and unsuccessful attempts by managers to contact him.

On November 6, the tribunal heard, Mr Roberts' sister Kate rang Sellafield and said she was concerned about her brother’s health and job position. “He was very distressed by recent fireworks and she felt he was having a breakdown,” the tribunal judgment states.

In January 2018, there were more absences and Mr Roberts’ manager texted his sister to say he was due to return to work but had not shown up and he needed to make contact. He had also missed two appointments with the site doctor, said the manager.

In April, following yet more absences – including one when Mr Roberts went to the funeral of an Army friend – Sellafield wrote to raise the issue of “missing sick notes”. That message was written under a heading that said: “unauthorised absence and no contact.”

He was told a formal disciplinary investigation was underway.

Explaining his earlier absence, Mr Roberts told his bosses he had “just gone into a hole" due to the death of his former colleague and he had “shut himself away from the outside world”.

News and Star: Recovery: Chris Roberts is battling through his PTSD with the help of his family and the charity Combat Stress.Recovery: Chris Roberts is battling through his PTSD with the help of his family and the charity Combat Stress.

Sellafield HR investigatory officer Tracy Riley looked into the absences by interviewing both Mr Roberts and Mr Roberts’ new manager. He was moved to a new role.

She summarised her findings by saying: “I then met with Chris who said he suffered from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“He said when he was having an episode he basically shut himself in and did not speak to anyone and it was not a good place to be. I struggled to get Chris to discuss any specific details or dates and he said his non-attendance was for the same reason on all the dates.”

Mr Roberts’ disciplinary hearing took place on December 17, 2019, with his union rep telling the hearing the case “screamed poor mental health.” The company said it had been “lenient” over his absences and non-contact.

There was also reference at the meeting to Mr Roberts struggling to control emotions as a result of his PTSD and him “staring for prolonged periods” when thinking about things, which could be uncomfortable for others, and an outburst of him slamming things on desk when frustrated.

On December 6, an occupation health professional told Sellafield Mr Roberts was likely to have PTSD for the rest of his life and his mental health was likely to “fluctuate, often without warning… Mr Roberts should be able to text his manager during a bout of illness.”

Eleven days later, a Sellafield manager wrote to Mr Roberts, saying: “I find the allegations [of gross misconduct for unauthorised absences] proven and my decision is that your employment with Sellafield Limited will be terminated with immediate effect.”

Finding in Mr Roberts' favour, the judge highlighted the link between the absences and his disability. The evidence for this included his description of feeling as though he was “in a dark hole, a locked dark room”, and him desiring no contact from anyone, including his mother.

He felt unable to function normally or even contact his family. “He was therefore unlikely to be able to text his manager,” adds the judgement. Nor, says the judgement, was the final written warning given to Mr Roberts justified because no medical investigation was undertaken.

It adds: “We recognise that in respect of the claimant’s absences and failure to communicate the respondent was remarkably tolerant, however that cannot outweigh the factors above which have led us to decide there was an unfair dismissal...

"We find that dismissal without notice was not justified here as the claimant was not in charge of his actions due to his disability and consequently we find there was no gross misconduct.”

A future hearing will decide what remedy must be provided to Mr Roberts, following an assessment of his financial losses and injury to feelings.

'Employers should be cognisant of PTSD'

Mr Roberts' sister Kate, 35, said employers need to appreciate that PTSD is a complex condition and they should take the necessary time to understand how its victims are affected.

After his dismissal, her brother had attempted to take his own life, she said.

She said: "If an employee who is a veteran is zoning out at work, shutting themselves away, not responding to emails and text messages, go and visit them as a duty of care, as these signs are a strong indicator that they are not okay and could be considering suicide.

"Chris had an exemplary record (from Sellafield and from the Army) prior to his breakdown in 2017. If a veteran's behaviour drastically changes and the employer knows they have served on active duty, particularly Afghanistan and Iraq, then employers should be cognisant of the fact that this might be caused by PTSD. 

"Chris had a diagnosis for this, which is employer was aware of at the time of his dismissal, which makes his dismissal for a gross misconduct offence  even more shocking."

'We acted in good faith'

A spokesman for Sellafield said: “We note the findings of the tribunal and we are now considering these in detail.

“We are pleased the judge recognised we acted in good faith throughout this case and that our approach was tolerant and flexible.

“We remain committed to ensuring Sellafield is a place where everyone is respected, included, and able to perform at their best.”

*  You can find out more about what help is available for those affected by PTSD due to military service from Combat Stress. The charity also operates a helping, the number being: 0800 1381619. You can also get in touch by text on 07537 173683 or by email via