10 Jun 2024

Edinburgh Tribunal Rules Against Amazon: Worker's Mental Health Needs Ignored

An Amazon worker with “debilitating” anxiety and bipolar disorder was put at a “substantial disadvantage” by being asked to attend morning meetings with occupational health, an Edinburgh tribunal has ruled.

Mr R Paterson had been working at Amazon UK as a capacity planner from July 2021. In October 2022, his manager began raising concerns about his performance.

By the following March his manager had not seen sufficient improvement and informed Paterson that, as per company policy, he could either take a settlement offer and leave Amazon’s employment, or be moved on to a formal performance improvement plan. He had by 17 March to respond; however, he went off sick because of anxiety from 13 March 2023.

Thereafter, he lodged a formal grievance and remained off work. After being put in touch with occupational health, a meeting was scheduled for 7 June, and Paterson requested it take place in the afternoon as “his medication was impacting him in the morning”; however, this request was not passed on and the meeting took place at 8.45am. In the end, Paterson left his role on 6 July.

This was the only claim that succeeded, with employment judge Sangster dismissing a number of other claims of unfair dismissal, direct discrimination, discrimination arising from disability, harassment and other complaints of failure to make reasonable adjustments. 


Paterson started in his role at Amazon as a capacity planner in outsourcing on 5 July 2021, having worked in outsourcing, in various roles, for 20 years. He did not inform Amazon that he had any medical conditions when he commenced employment with them, but had experienced symptoms of social anxiety since he was a child and of general anxiety from at least 2007. In 2019 he was hospitalised for a short period, which was attributed to his bipolar disorder; this was not formally diagnosed at the time.

He was formally assigned to the Edinburgh office; however, at that stage employees were permitted to continue working from home, following the pandemic. Paterson’s manager, Sasha Horn, was based in Berlin.

Paterson first met Horn at an in-person meeting in Edinburgh in October 2022, and participated in a number of team-building exercises over a couple of days. Following this, during their weekly one-to-one meetings, Horn regularly raised performance concerns with Paterson. Further, throughout November and December, Horn raised with the HR team that he had concerns about the claimant’s performance, which he had been discussing with him.

HR advised Horn to follow Amazon’s guidance for managers when dealing, informally, with performance issues. This involved Horn providing information to HR in relation to the concerns he had regarding the claimant’s performance, and how he intended to seek to address them informally with the claimant, which he did.

On 19 January 2023, Horn raised concerns again. During the meeting, Paterson indicated that he had a desire to improve, and recognised that his performance had been declining.

By 7 March, however, Horn felt there had been insufficient improvement and, as a result, the claimant was informed that he could either take a settlement offer and leave the respondent’s employment, or he would be moved on to a formal performance improvement plan. He had by 17 March to respond, but he went off sick a result of anxiety from 13 March, stating: “I do ask that I am now given four weeks to focus solely on recovery.”

On 21 March, Paterson lodged a grievance with Horn and disclosed that he suffered from anxiety and had previously been hospitalised with bipolar. His grievance related to the performance improvement plan and “a failure to make reasonable adjustments”.

He stated that the respondent had failed to or avoided discussing an “obvious mental impairment” and highlighted that the duty arose where an employer knew or “could reasonably be expected to know” someone is disabled.

Paterson was due to return to work on 12 April but on that date emailed saying he had been certified as unfit for work for a further four weeks because of new medication.

HR business partner Catherine Mahony made contact with Paterson and they had a call to discuss an occupational health referral. An appointment was scheduled for 18 May; however, Paterson did not attend, emailing Mahony to say he was having internet issues and would need to reschedule to another day. He requested that it take place the following week. This request was lodged.

On 22 May, the claimant sent an email to Mahony stating that his medication was impacting him in the morning, so requested that the OH assessment take place after 3pm. No request for the claimant’s appointment to take place in the afternoon was passed on. On 26 May the claimant was informed that an OH appointment had been made for him and would take place on 7 June at 8.45am, by telephone. He attended that appointment and a report was provided to the respondent later that day.

The respondent was informed that Paterson was experiencing severe depression and severe anxiety. It referenced him having social anxiety. Meanwhile, a grievance hearing was arranged for 8 June, and Paterson was reassured that both strands of his grievance would be investigated.

He had been due to return to work on 1 August, as per occupational health’s recommendation; however, he informed his employer that he did not see himself returning to work in the “foreseeable future”. Horn stated that he would set up to bi-weekly calls to discuss the claimant’s wellbeing and the adjustments required for him to return to work. Invites were then sent for those discussions, but Paterson did not attend any of them.

On 19 June 2023, Paterson contacted Mahony telling her he was “considering his options” and repeatedly referenced the potential of raising legal proceedings for constructive dismissal, disability discrimination and harassment. On 6 July, he emailed intimating his resignation, with immediate effect. He stated he intended to proceed with tribunal proceedings, and his employment terminated that day.

He did not receive any acknowledgement of his resignation, and raised tribunal proceedings on 9 July. The grievance outcome was sent to the claimant on 11 August; his grievance was not upheld. He was diagnosed formally with bipolar disorder in November 2023. 

Judge’s comments 

Employment judge Sangster found that Paterson was “placed at a substantial disadvantage” by having to attend occupational health meetings at stipulated times, noting that when he was required to attend an occupational health appointment on 7 June 2023, “the medication he was taking for his anxiety impacted him in the mornings”.

The court ruled: “The respondent was aware that the claimant was a disabled person at that time and that he would be placed at that substantial disadvantage in comparison to those who do not have the same disability and whether the respondent was aware that the claimant was likely to be placed at this disadvantage.”

As Amazon was aware Paterson was disabled by the 7 June meeting – with the court finding that the respondent first became aware of the claimant having bipolar disorder and anxiety on 21 March 2023, when he submitted his grievance – it had therefore placed him at a disadvantage by not moving the time of the meeting as per his request.

Paterson’s claims of disability discrimination failed because “the respondent did not know, and could not reasonably have been expected to know, that the claimant had a disability prior to receipt of his grievance on 21 March 2023”.

The tribunal ruled: “As a result, the claimant’s complaints of discrimination arising from disability must fail. Both complaints relate to decisions taken by the respondent prior to them being aware, and before they could reasonably have been expected to know, of the claimant having social anxiety and bipolar disorder.”

Amazon was ordered to pay Paterson £1,596.99, including interest, by way of compensation for injury to feelings.

HR Branch comments

Whilst the majority of claims made by the employee, Paterson, were not upheld by the Employment Tribunal, Amazon was criticised for its handling of the case.

Where disabled employees have particular needs or difficulties, failing to take into account adjustments for these needs or difficulties could result in a finding of discrimination.

Employers do not need to wait for a formal medial opinion to understand that an employee might be disabled given the nature of their health and medical background and/or information provided by the employee.

Fortunately the compensation awarded was not significant in Employment Tribunal terms but what we don't see is the hidden cost of the time taken within the business to manage the tribunal process and the legal costs associated with the tribunal case itself. Whilst these costs may not have been substantial for a company like Amazon, for a small business the time and costs associated with defending such a claim will be significant and potentially damaging. All the more reason to avoid the pitfalls of getting to this point with employee issues by taking professional advice at the earliest possible time.

Katharine Nundy is Director of The HR Branch Limited. Katharine has over 25 years of advising employers on employment issues and has a masters degree in Human Resources Management as well as being a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).