IBM Worker Sues for Not Getting a Pay Rise Whilst on Sick Leave

An IT specialist, Ian Clifford tried to sue IBM in the employment tribunal for failing to give him a pay rise whilst he was on long-term sick leave for 15 years. In 2008, Ian Clifford initially went on sick leave for mental health reasons and in 2012 was diagnosed with stage four leukaemia which meant that he couldn’t return to work. In 2013, he raised a grievance against IBM for the following reasons:

  • Not receiving a salary increase since 2008
  • Not receiving holiday pay for the years that he was off work due to sickness
  • Not being placed on the IBM Disability Plan

Following the grievance, a compromise agreement was reached between IBM and Clifford. It was agreed that Clifford would be treated as an incentive employee and was put on the IBM Aligned Sickness and Accident Benefit plan where he would be paid 75% of his salary (more than £54,000) from April 2013 until he retired. As part of the agreed terms, he would also be an active member of the pension scheme and was given £8,685.60 for the years of lost holiday pay. This seemed like a pretty fair deal, but for Clifford, it wasn’t enough.

IBM experienced a bit of Deja Vu in January 2023 when Clifford complained about his pay again but this time, he went to the employment tribunal claiming to be a victim of disability discrimination as a result of not being given a pay rise since 2013. Clifford argued that the rise in inflation over the years meant that he was disadvantaged by being on the IBM Disability Plan because he was unable to receive a pay rise in comparison to active workers who were able to get one. He said that due to the cost of living crisis, his “mere” £54,000 would not support him and his family and would soon dwindle down.

Did IBM’s Actions Result in Disability Discrimination?

When the employment tribunal considers whether an employer’s actions amount to disability discrimination, they compare the treatment of the disabled person with the treatment of someone who is not disabled.

In this case, Clifford tried to compare himself to someone who was not on the company’s Disability Plan. The judge said this was a “flawed comparator” because only someone with a disability that cannot work again is eligible to be transferred to the plan. Disability discrimination happens when a disabled person is treated less favourably, but in this case, the disabled person (Ian Clifford) was treated more favourably than a non-disabled person because he was able to receive 75% of his salary without ever having to work again.

Since active and non-disabled employees could not be transferred to the IBM plan, this was not a case of disability discrimination. The judge recognised that Clifford was complaining about the fact that the benefits he gained from the IBM Disability Plan were “not generous enough” because the payments had been fixed for 10 years. Thankfully, simply wanting more money when you already receive better benefits than most is not something that can be argued in the employment tribunal.

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