A bin man from Derbyshire says he was given the sack after taking time off work to care for his seriously ill son.
Stephen Gray, 29, of Matlock, was told his contract with Serco was to be terminated last Friday, May 20, nine months after he was signed off on medical grounds.
Since August 2015, Stephen and his partner Hayley have been dividing their time between the family home on Mettesford and the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham, where their two-year-old son Morgan has been receiving treatment for inoperable tumours on his brain and spine.
Stephen said his employers at the Longcliffe depot were initially supportive.
However, when approached by the Mercury this week the firm said it “wouldn’t dream of sacking anyone in such a sensitive situation.”
“A doctor signed me off with severe stress soon after we got Morgan’s diagnosis, and they said they were more than happy to let me have time off to be with the family.
“When my area manager and senior supervisor turned up at my house. It came totally out of the blue. It’s company policy that you’re supposed to get welfare visits in situations like this, but I’d not heard anything before now.”
There followed a five minute conversation, in which Stephen says he was asked to give a definite date for his return to work.
With four other children aged between eight years and ten months - one of whom also has complex health needs - and Morgan expecting further surgeries and weekly chemotherapy, Stephen was not in a position to answer his managers’ demands on the spot.
He said: “When I told them I couldn’t be sure, they said they were giving the job to someone who’s actually going to come to work.
“It really annoyed me. It’s not like I’m off on holiday. My daily routine is totally based around Morgan. It’s all hands on deck, all of the time.”
Stephen says his managers explained he was employed on a three-month rolling contract and that it would not be renewed - which was the first he had heard of this.
He said: “I’d worked at the depot for two years through an agency, but last summer – just before we got the news about Morgan – I got offered a permanent job. It wasn’t a three-month contract.
“My sick pay ran out two months ago, so it’s not like I’m costing the company anything. It’s the last thing we needed to hear but I was so angry I said they could do what they want.”
After taking the weekend to calm down, Stephen began making enquiries with Serco’s human resources staff, his trade union and the Mercury on Monday morning.
He said: “It didn’t seem right, it felt like discrimination and unfair dismissal so I wanted to know where I stood.
“When I spoke to my area manager again and mentioned I’d contacted the press, he quickly came back and said they’d had another look at my contract and that I actually was a permanent employee.
“They’re saying they never told me I was sacked, and that they couldn’t have done. But it’s a blatant lie. They just didn’t do their homework.”
Serco spokeswoman Sophia Antoniou said: “My understanding is that the employee’s manager visited his home on Friday as his current sick-note was due to expire.
“I’ve spoken with the contract manager responsible and I can categorically say the employee has not been sacked.
“We wouldn’t dream of sacking anyone in such a sensitive situation and, in any case, it is impossible to sack anyone in this way.
“We work in a large organization with processes to be followed. We wouldn’t just rock up to someone’s house. I strongly advise that we try and reach a better understanding in this matter.”
While Stephen acknowledges that the job now remains open to him, the experience has left him shaken.
He said: “To be honest, I’d rather people see them for what they are than let them portray something they’re not. I’ve got nothing to gain from telling my story. Serco claims to be a family-orientated company, but this isn’t family orientated.
“I had no welfare visits, no support whatsoever. Now as far as I’m concerned, I’ve lost my job.
“It’s only a bin man job, but I loved it, working outdoors with good people. This isn’t the first time people have left due to the management though. There are more agency workers than permanent staff at the depot because nobody wants it.”
Since his sick pay expired, the family have been forced to live on welfare support while they prioritise the children’s wellbeing.
After spending the first five months in of his illness in hospital, Morgan is now staying at home and currently responding well to treatment.
Stephen said: “The chemo has really knocked him out but the tumours have both reduced in size by 50 per cent, which is phenomenal really when we were told the outlook wasn’t bright at all.
“Doctors said he might not walk again, but he’s just recently found the strength to get himself up and about.”
After the local community rallied around the family with a fundraising campaign, Stephen and Hayley hope Morgan will be well enough for a dream holiday to Disneyland Paris in July.
Stephen said: “We wanted to go for Morgan’s birthday, and it will be nearly a year since he was first diagnosed. Fingers crossed his rehab will keep going well and he’ll be mobile enough to really enjoy it.”