Civil servant wins case over right to listen to music at work

Civil servant WINS discrimination case after tribunal rules she should be able to listen to music through headphones at work to help her manage stress

  • Misbah Hanif worked at the Department of Work and Pensions in Stockton
  • She was forced onto sick leave because she was diagnosed as suffering anxiety
  • Her GP advised that allowing Ms Hanif to use headphones at work would help

A civil servant has won a discrimination claim after her manager told her she wasn’t allowed to listen to music through headphones at work.

Misbah Hanif – who suffers from anxiety – had previously agreed with her bosses that she could listen to songs as it helped her relax.

However, after one of her colleagues complained that he found it hard to communicate with the government worker because she always had headphones on she was told she had to stop.

Now an employment tribunal has ruled that not allowing her to listen to music ‘deprived her of a coping mechanism’ and concluded that she was discriminated against.

A civil servant was discriminated against by her managers in the Department of Work and Pensions after they ruled she could not listen to music on headphones in work

She is now in line for compensation.

The hearing, held remotely, was told that Ms Hanif worked as a presenting officer in Stockton, Teesside, at the Department for Work and Pensions.

Ms Hanif suffered from depression and anxiety and due to this she was off work for a number of weeks at the end of 2017.

When she returned to work, she sat down with her manager Julie Hepperle, and together they worked out a ‘back to work plan’.

Among measures put in place to help her deal with her stress levels, Ms Hanif requested that she be allowed to listen to music when at work.

She said that she used it as a coping mechanism to distract herself when she was around other people and struggled to control her emotions.

Ms Hanif said that her GP had agreed that it was a good idea and the tribunal accepted that listening to music helped her cope with her stress and deal with her anxiety.

Following the meeting, Ms Hepperle asked her own manager if it would be ok for Ms Hanif to listen to music.

She was told however, that given the nature of the work she did, which included the careful preparation of tribunals and needed extreme concentration, the DWP would not allow it.

The tribunal heard that at the time Ms Hepperle and Ms Hanif were on ‘friendly terms’ and as a result she told her that she could listen to music, provided she didn’t get caught.

Over the next few months the relationship between the pair deteriorated however and Ms Hanif began to believe that her manager was making comments about her behind her back.

Eventually, another presenting officer told Ms Hepperle he found it ‘difficult to communicate’ with Ms Hanif because she was always listening to music on her headphones.

The Employment Appeal tribunal heard Ms Hanif was told by her line manager that she could not listen to music while at work (photograph posed by a model) 

Following this complaint, Ms Hepperle spoke to Ms Hanif and told her she was not allowed to listen to music at work.

However, following a structural change at the DWP a short while late, Ms Hanif was given a new manager and was told she would be allowed to listen to music in the office.

Despite this, Ms Hanif continued to have disagreements with the DWP and eventually launched an employment tribunal claim making numerous allegations and claiming she had been victimised and harassed because of her sexuality and her disability.

Employment Judge Adele Aspden concluded: ‘We have accepted that [Ms Hanif] found listening to music helped her to cope with stress and counter feelings of anxiety and that this, in turn, was likely to aid her productivity.

‘We find that the [DWP’s] practice of not permitting listening to music deprived [her] of a coping mechanism that helped her to manage anxiety and stress levels.

‘That put [Ms Hanif] at a disadvantage compared with those without a disability because people without a disability were much less likely to experience anxiety in the workplace.

‘The disadvantage was more than minor or trivial because anxiety had the potential to affect [her] productivity at work, as well as her mood…

‘Initially, Ms Hepperle said [Ms Hanif] could listen to music provided she did not get caught.

‘This was an adjustment to the usual practice, in that it went some way towards mitigating the effect of the rule.

‘Tacitly condoning [Ms Hanif] listening to music provided she did it discreetly and did not get caught was not the same as giving [Ms Hanif] express permission to do so and the failure to give that express permission was a breach of the respondent’s duty to make reasonable adjustments.

‘That breach was compounded when, later in the year, Ms Hepperle told the claimant she must not listen to music.’

The judge concluded Ms Hanif’s claims of direct discrimination relating to her disability, and of harassment and victimisation were not well founded.

She concluded however that the DWP failed to make reasonable adjustments and therefore discriminated against Ms Hanif by not allowing her to listen to music at work.

It also failed to make reasonable adjustments and discriminated against Ms Hanif when it failed to allow her to work from home while reporting to someone other than Ms Hepperle.

MailOnline has approached the Department of Work and Pensions for a comment. 

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