Employee on Sick Leave for 15 Years Sues Due to No Pay Raise

Ian Clifford, a senior IT worker in the United Kingdom, has pushed his luck by taking a sick leave since 2008. He then decided to file a lawsuit against the employer for not granting a pay raise after all those years.

Clifford is employed by IBM but he hasn’t stepped foot into the office for fifteen years. He is now accusing the company of “disability discrimination” because his salary has been stagnant since his sick leave. As per the IBM health plan, the IT specialist receives over $67,000 a year and the salary is guaranteed until he reaches the age of retirement (65).

The employee has fought back saying the salary is “not generous enough” and claims the employer fails to take into account inflation.

When coming up for a performance appraisal, it’s challenging for any employer to justify the pay increase of an employee whose absence dates back years.

Initially, Clifford took a sick leave in September 2008 and stayed away from the office until 2013 when he filed a complaint. After hearing his complaint, IBM came up with a solution by granting him a compromise agreement where he was added to the company’s disability plan to avoid being terminated. The plan allows Clifford to not be dismissed and to stay on file as an employee with “no obligation to work.”

The plan also granted Clifford to his 75 percent of his discussed earnings until he reaches recovery, retirement or death. For Clifford, the 75 percent of his income came up to $67,000 per year after the deductions.  

In February 2022, Clifford wasn’t satisfied with the earnings and dragged IBM to an employment tribunal due to disability discrimination. He said: “The point of the plan was to give security to employees not able to work — that was not achieved if payments were forever frozen.”

In the tribunal, the judge didn’t side with Clifford since he felt that the current settlement was already generous enough. Clifford didn’t have to lift a finger and he was still getting paid 75 percent of his salary for over a decade.

Judge Housego said: “That active employee may get pay rises, but inactive employees do not, is a difference, but is not, in my judgment, a detriment caused by something arising from disability. The complaint is in fact that the benefit of being an inactive employee on the plan is not generous enough because the payments have been at a fixed level since April 6, 2013, now 10 years, and may remain so.

“The claim is that the absence of an increase in salary is disability discrimination because it is less favourable treatment than afforded those not disabled. This contention is not sustainable because only the disabled can benefit from the plan. It is not disability discrimination that the plan is not even more generous. Even if the value of the £50,000 a year halved over 30 years, it is still a very substantial benefit.”

“It is more favourable treatment, not less,” the judge concluded.