I have been working for the British Council since 2014 as an English teacher, overseas. In 2015, I became ill, was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease and subsequently, reasonable adjustments were made on a disability basis. This was a difficult process partly because of my initial reluctance to be open about my condition and advocate for myself, and partly because of the response from the BC but eventually, I had a slightly reduced timetable, a laptop to help me work more flexibly and general support from managers and HR.
Unfortunately, when I transferred jobs a few months later, these adjustments were repeatedly delayed and refused and when I raised concerns about this I faced a lot of bullying and harassment (jokes, lies, being prevented from attending meetings, continued refusal to help etc.) and was signed off sick with an exacerbation of Meniere’s disease plus stress and anxiety as a result of the situation at work.
Since then, I’ve been through a much protracted grievance and appeal and I lodged a tribunal claim in April last year. My grievance, although favourable to me, was overruled by the Director who also wouldn’t let me see the reports or discuss them. They agreed via email to make adjustments last summer but also won’t communicate with me about them and so I haven’t been able to return to work. In the meantime, I obtained my grievance reports via a Data Subject Access Request which also returned dozens of emails about me from senior managers discrediting me, my disability and my grievances. Some accuse me of lying about my disability, abusing my disability and even being confused because of my disability. My raising concerns about failure to follow their own policy has been framed as an attack on senior management. The British Council won’t acknowledge any of this so it’s been really traumatising.
I recently dropped the tribunal claim due to the toll it was taking on my health and because of the lack of dialogue with my managers which has been making life really difficult and meant I couldn’t move on with or without my job. Despite having a strong case, my employer’s lawyers were arguing that the Equality Act doesn’t apply because I work abroad. This is despite being made to go through occupational health earlier in the year to “prove” I was disabled according to the EqA and the EqA being a huge part of the BC remit. They also tried to terminate my employment but I couldn’t agree because we still had no answers or resolution to any of this and I have been desperate to get the BC to listen and understand these issues so I can have closure and know that this won’t happen to others.
I’m now in a very strange and stressful position whereby I’m still employed but haven’t worked for almost a year and haven’t had an income since August last year. My partner, who also worked for them part-time was sacked when he came back to the UK with me to see doctors on the advice of BC occupational health. I have spent a year going round in circles, talking to various managers within the BC but my managers still won’t talk to me making it impossible to return to work or even leave the country with my contractual entitlements such as holiday pay, flights, shipping. It’s still having a huge impact on my physical and mental health, which they know.
Although discrimination is widespread and problems with Disability Confident well known, it’s been hugely distressing that an organisation like this, which continues to promote itself as a leader in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and advertises itself as “Disability Confident”, can discriminate so brazenly against its own employees. I disclosed my disability on application according to BC policy, already had adjustments in place in my previous job with them, shared medical records, and have favourable occupational health and grievance reports but still cannot hold them to account. I spoke up and pursued this precisely because of their excellent and clear policies. Unfortunately it’s been futile and to my detriment but I’m still clinging on to the hope that something positive might come out of this for me or the BC. It’s certainly made me realise how little is understood by certain managers and how important it is to advocate for these rights.
If you want any further information:
Disability News Service article from last year
My blog (which is very long and a bit repetitive – there’s a lot more to it than what I’ve described above – but it has helped me to process things in the absence of any support from work)
A recent blog post about Disability Confident, double standards and doublespeak
The same article on DPAC website