Manageress sues Holland and Barrett for stopping her sick pay while she was recovering from learning her husband was gayMother-of-two had her sick pay reclaimed after she was signed off work with depressionOlga Gofmane and her children were left with 1.50 for a month after health firm reclaimed the payShe became unwell after the break down of her 12-year marriage

Anna Edwards


17:09 GMT, 4 January 2013



19:36 GMT, 4 January 2013

Olga Gofmane sued health food firm for reclaiming her sick pay

Olga Gofmane sued health food firm for reclaiming her sick pay

A mother-of two who became depressed when her husband told her he was gay has successfully sued her employers Holland and Barrett for slashing her sick pay.

Olga Gofmane, a manager of one of the company's branches, moved out of the family home after her former husband brought his boyfriend to the house.

When Holland and Barrett reclaimed her sick pay after she had been signed off work by a doctor, Mrs Gofmane was left with just 1.50 a month.

She sued the company for breach of contract.

The tribunal, at Reading, Berkshire, heard how the 34-year-old told had been diagnosed with clinical depression after the breakdown of her twelve-year marriage.

Mrs Gofmane told an employment tribunal: 'To the latter part of 2011 I had to deal with extremely difficult personal circumstances and consequently I started to become physically and mentally unwell.

The mother, who came to Britain with her husband from their native Latvia, said: 'I have never suffered like this before and find it very difficult to deal with.'

Despite her emotional and mental state she remained at work because she had to support herself and her children.

Yet her personal circumstances led to her making mistakes at the Holland & Barrett branch she managed, in Newbury, Berkshire and her line managers launched a disciplinary procedure.

They also criticised her over an alleged unauthorised absence when she took a Saturday off because her daughter was ill, despite her stating she had texted her area manager to alert her.

When she did see a doctor, on March 20 last year, they advised her to go off work immediately and signed her off.

A friend of hers called her line manager to break the news and the following day contacted the firm's HR department.

Mrs Gofmane discovered her sick pay had been deducted when she received her payslip for April.

She said: 'It can be seen from my payslips that my company sick pay was reclaimed, despite the company paying statutory sick pay.

'The net effect of deducting the sick pay was a salary payment to me of 1.50.


The Holland and Barrett health food shop in Newbury, Berkshire, where Olga Gofmane worked as manager

'I rang the HR department the same day. I was sure it was a mistake. I was at my wits' end and totally distressed at the prospect of not having my salary.

'I'm a single mother with two children, with rent and bills and food to buy and was totally panicking as to how I would manage financially.'

The firm conceded that it had not sent a letter alerting Mrs Gofmane to the pay reduction.

The panel heard that the desperate mother had to get an emergency loan from a friend in Switzerland and also went back to work early, against her doctor's advice.

Holland and Barrett later paid the money, following a grievance brought by Mrs Gofmane, but the tribunal has now ruled that their actions were in breach of the contract.

The judge ordered the company to pay the 77.40 pounds Mrs Gofman incurred in arranging the loan from her friend.

At the same hearing the firm was exonerated of any disability discrimination against its employee, who had alleged she was unfairly treated because of her mental health problems.

Judge Russell Hardwick accepted Mrs Gofmane's regional manager's argument, that she had suspended the worker because of her not adhering to company rules on reporting absence.

Following the passing of the Equality Act 2010 people with serious mental health problems have greater protection under the law and Mrs Gofmane sued the firm, which she still works for, on the basis of disability discrimination.

However, the judge stated the evidence of her having a disability was 'scant' and that even if they had considered that her mental health problems amounted to a disability, Holland & Barrett was unaware of it at the time it launched disciplinary proceedings and stopped her pay.

Holland & Barrett contested the allegation of disability discrimination and of breach of contract, arguing that the depression had not been diagnosed at the time and she had not made them aware that she was ill.