IT worker off sick for 15 years sues IBM for not giving him a pay rise

IT worker off sick for 15 years sues IBM for not giving him a pay rise

His claim was dismissed at an employment tribunal, with the judge saying he has been given "substantial benefit" and "favourable treatment".

Published on 15th May 2023

A senior IT worker on sick leave since 2008 tried to sue a tech giant for discrimination – because he hasn’t been given a pay rise in that time.

Ian Clifford claimed he was the victim of disability discrimination by IBM because his salary had not been increased in the 15 years he was off work.

Under an IBM health plan, the IT specialist receives over £54,000 a year and is guaranteed to receive the salary until he is 65 – meaning he will pocket more than £1.5 million.

But Mr Clifford argued it is ‘not generous enough’, claiming his £54,028 salary will ‘wither’ over time due to inflation.

His claim was dismissed by an employment tribunal in Reading, with a judge telling him he has been given a ‘very substantial benefit’ and ‘favourable treatment’.

The tribunal heard Mr Clifford, who studied at King’s College London, started working for Lotus Development in 2000 before it was acquired by IBM.

He went on sick leave in September 2008 and remained off work until 2013, when he had raised a grievance.

Under the grievance, Mr Clifford complained that he hadn’t received a pay rise and also complained about holiday pay for the five-year period.

In April 2013, when Mr Clifford was in his mid-30s, a ‘compromise agreement’ was reached and his complaints were settled by putting him on the company’s disability plan.

Under the plan, a person who is unable to work is not dismissed but remains an employee and has ‘no obligation to work’, the panel heard.

An employee on the plan has a ‘right’ until recovery, retirement, or death if earlier, to be paid 75% of agreed earnings.

In Mr Clifford’s case his agreed salary was £72,037 – meaning from 2013 he would be paid £54,028 per year after 25% was deducted.

The plan was fixed in place for over 30 years until he reached the retirement age of 65, meaning he would receive more than £1.5 million in total.

He was also paid £8,685 to settle his holiday pay complaints in 2013 and agreed never to raise a further grievance about the same issues.

But in February 2022, Mr Clifford took IBM to an employment tribunal with new disability discrimination claims, mirroring his previous grievance.

He said he had been treated ‘unfavourably’ with no salary increase since 2013 or holiday entitlement, and compared himself to a non-disabled employee who would have been paid their full salary during holidays.

Mr Clifford told the tribunal that with inflation now running at over 10% the ‘value of the payments would soon wither’.

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.’

Employment Judge Paul Housego dismissed his case.

Judge Housego said: ‘That active employees may get pay rises, but inactive employees do not, is a difference, but is not, in my judgement, 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 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.’

A LinkedIn profile for Mr Clifford states he is from the Guildford, Surrey, area, and is ‘medically retired’.


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