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NHS Tayside worker labelled ‘anti-vaxxer’ by bosses wins discrimination case

Gail Lauder took the health board to a tribunal over the comment about her decision to decline a Covid jab.

Gail Lauder is in line for compensation from NHS Tayside. Image: Steve MacDougall/ DC Thomson
Gail Lauder is in line for compensation from NHS Tayside. Image: Steve MacDougall/ DC Thomson

A former NHS Tayside worker who was labelled an “anti-vaxxer” by bosses has won a discrimination case against the health board.

Gail Lauder, who was employed as a specialist sonographer by NHS Tayside for nearly 20 years, took the health board to an employment tribunal over the comment made about her decision to decline a Covid jab.

She was also unable to wear a surgical face mask, despite official guidance issued in June 2020 as she believed it caused an allergic reaction.

An employment tribunal held in Dundee heard that as a result of these, she was referred to as an “anti-vaxxer” by imaging manager Michael Conroy.

NHS Tayside worker wins discrimination case after ‘stereotypical’ anti-vaxxer comment

The tribunal found the statement to be “self-evidently unfavourable treatment” of Ms Lauder.

A report added that the comments “drew on a stereotypical view that someone who was not vaccinated against Covid must be an ‘anti-vaxxer’.”

Ms Lauder could now be in line for compensation from NHS Tayside after her claim under the Equality Act 2010 succeeded.

The tribunal rejected her further claims of constructive unfair dismissal.

Ms Lauder had resigned from her role before becoming aware Mr Conroy had referred to her as an “anti-vaxxer”.

In October 2022, he was recorded as saying: “Gail has different views on Covid and is an anti-vaxxer, on occasion telling patients they didn’t need to wear masks which caused colleagues distress”

‘Well respected’ NHS Tayside worker was ‘very cautious’ about medicines due to allergies

Ms Lauder – who started working with NHS Tayside in 2003 and was described as being “well-respected” by colleagues – made the decision not to be vaccinated based on her medical history, which included allergic reactions to certain substances, according to the tribunal.

As a result, she is “very cautious about what drugs and medicines she uses”.

She also claimed she experienced coughing and irritation in her nose, mouth, throat and eyes as a result of wearing a mask more often in October 2020.

At this time, Ms Lauder and her colleagues were required to wear face masks
when scanning patients.

The tribunal heard that she later tried various other types of mask but continued to have allergic reactions and eventually indicated that she was unwilling to try more masks made from the same materials.

Concerns worker was ‘telling patients she was choosing not to have the vaccine’

In Ms Lauder’s annual appraisal in 2021, lead sonographer Margaret Taylor highlighted “informal” reports that colleagues “were concerned Gail was telling patients she was choosing not to have the vaccine”.

In her notes, Mrs Taylor wrote: “I suggested that although Gail clearly feels this is a fairly benign statement, it may not be helpful to say such things to patients as sounds a little counter to public health vaccination programme drive

“Gail felt she should be allowed to have a voice and I agreed but she is contracted to work for the NHS and her views are not in line with NHS and public health.”

Ms Lauder later started working from home as the service was unable to find a suitable mask for her.

Gail Lauder was admitted to Ninewells Hospital with a severe case of Covid. Image: Kim Cessford/DC Thomson

The tribunal heard that in June 2021, Ms Lauder began a period of sickness absence due to a “stress-related problem”.

This continued after she was admitted to Ninewells Hospital with a severe case of Covid later that year.

She then submitted a letter of grievance in July 2022 following a series of disputes with bosses around her vaccination status, sick pay and a possible return to work

Ms Lauder alleged that “being questioned about her vaccination status was irrelevant, unjustifiable, inappropriate and stress-inducing”.

NHS Tayside ‘taking time to review tribunal judgement’

She resigned from her role in November 2022, claiming there had been “bullying, harassment and latterly neglect by the other ultrasound team members during the Covid-19 pandemic”.

Ms Lauder then took the health board to the employment tribunal, which was held in April, before the judgement was published.

A spokesperson for NHS Tayside said: “We are currently taking the time to review the full written judgment.”

The Courier has been unable to reach Ms Lauder for comment.