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HomePolicingWoman to take legal action against Police Scotland over antidepressant discrimination

Woman to take legal action against Police Scotland over antidepressant discrimination

An Inverness woman has launched legal action against Police Scotland after having a job offer withdrawn because she was taking antidepressants.

Laura Mackenzie had sailed through the recruitment process for her “dream job” to become a police officer.

But after reaching the stage of being sent for a medical and fitted for a uniform it was taken away.

Police Scotland’s occupational health provider said a policy of two years free of the medication was in place.

The force said it could not comment on the case.

Ms Mackenzie was described by her recruiting officer as an “impressive” candidate when she applied to join Police Scotland in June 2019.

He also said her application to become a probationary officer in the Highlands and Islands division “stood out”.

Ms Mackenzie was invited to attend an IQ test in Aberdeen and she spent evenings researching the job and studying practice books to improve her numeracy skills.

Recruitment Inspector Gavin Davidson issued her with a provisional offer of employment in November 2019 – with several conditions.

One was to be “certified by a registered medical practitioner approved by the police authority to be fit both physically and mentally to perform the duties of a police officer”.

The letter noted that a failure to meet all or any of the conditions may result in her start date being deferred or the provisional offer being withdrawn.

In court papers lodged to request an employment tribunal, it was stated that Insp Davidson had called Ms Mackenzie to congratulate her.

About a month later, Ms MacKenzie attended a medical ahead of an expected uniform fitting. There the occupational health nurse asked her about antidepressants.

Ms Mackenzie said that she had believed that by this time Police Scotland, or its occupational health advisors, Optima Health, would have had access to her medical records.

She said that she was taking an antidepressant drug for anxiety and depression.

The nurse consulted a colleague and then advised her of a “two year rule” stipulating that probationary police officers had to be free of antidepressant drugs for a period of two years before they could be considered for employment.

Ms Mackenzie said she was “heartbroken” by this after being transparent with Police Scotland about her health.

Insp Davidson called her and was said to be “shocked and apologetic” that she could not be passed fit for duty and that her application would be taken no further.

Wellbeing project

To make the situation worse Ms Mackenzie said the Highlands and Islands division announced, just weeks later, that it had secured funding for a three-year mental health and wellbeing project for officers and staff.

Police Scotland also confirmed a formal partnership with See Me, Scotland’s programme to tackle mental health stigma and discrimination.

Ms Mackenzie went on to work as a nursing assistant in a psychiatric hospital.

But information she learned during her training and while seeking advice, together with a similar case reported by the Scottish Sun newspaper, prompted her to launch legal action.

Despite being outside the usual time limit for making a complaint, a judge ruled that an employment tribunal could hear Ms Mackenzie’s case.

Employment cases normally must be brought within three months, but submissions made by Ms Mackenzie’s legal team led Judge Russell Bradley to allow the case to proceed.

A preliminary hearing will now take place at a later date.

Ms Mackenzie’s solicitor, Jay Lawson told BBC Scotland that this was one of a number of similar cases against Police Scotland, which he said was “worrying in itself”.

Mr Lawson, from Dundee firm MML Law, added: “This is a hugely important case for our client given everything she has been through but also for employees and candidates with disabilities who are discriminated against during the recruitment process.

“There is always a bigger picture in a case such as this, in relation to raising awareness.

“Ms Mackenzie instructed us following seeing one of our other cases against Police Scotland and perhaps would not have pursued the case without seeing this.”

Wendy Halliday, director of mental health charity See Me, told BBC Scotland: “While there’s been real progress in recent years, we know that there is still work to do to address stigma and discrimination for Scotland’s workers.

“We firmly believe that no one should be denied a role just because of their mental health, with no other consideration as to how they are, what they could bring to a role, or exploring reasonable adjustments, as required under the 2010 Equality Act, that would support them to carry out the role.”

‘Show leadership’

Lee Knifton, director of Mental Health Foundation in Scotland, said: “We can’t comment on individual cases but we know that people living with mental health conditions are still facing discrimination.

“We need employers to show leadership and ensure that their recruitment and workplace practices do not negatively affect people living with mental health conditions.

“Around one in six adults live with a common mental health disorder and we are continually learning more about mental health, so any policies in this area should be reviewed regularly to ensure that outdated practices are curbed.” A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “It would be inappropriate for us to comment at this stage.”

(Source: BBC)

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