Ope Ajanaku, who has a severe peanut allergy, was best man at his older brother’s wedding on April 23, 2022. After eating Suya, a traditional Nigerian food seasoned with peanut spice, Ajanaku found himself in the throes of an anaphylactic reaction.
He had unfortunately left his epinephrine auto-injector in his car and had given his keys to someone else, so he asked his mother to call emergency services.
While waiting for the ambulance, Ajanaku, was hunched over trying desperately to breathe. When the ambulance arrived 20 minutes later, he was “completely immobile,” and the EMTs proceeded to administer oxygen and epinephrine.
Upon arrival at the hospital, he was admitted to the resuscitation ward and given a second dose of epinephrine and cortisone.
He was discharged the following day with a five-day course of chlorphenamine, nizatidine, and prednisolone and instructions to rest.
The day after his discharge, Ajanaku — following his company’s regulations — notified his boss about the ordeal and the need to take the week off to recover.
A recently convened London Central tribunal heard testimony as to what happened next.
Upon his return to work, Sally Rigg, the company’s chief compliance officer, emailed Ajanaku seeking a medical certificate as he had been “off work for more than three days.”
It was Ajanaku’s understanding — confirmed by the UK’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service — that regulations required him to produce medical evidence if he was out more than seven days. He had been out five.
The tribunal heard that Rigg was ‘not aware’ at the time of the company’s illness policy concerning self-certification and did not explain to him that they were entitled to ask.
In a late-night e-mail, she told Ajanaku: “You are now on notice, we are taking disciplinary action if you cannot produce the evidence requested by 12pm tomorrow.”
Ajanaku then was forced to attend a disciplinary hearing with senior executives of the company, unaccompanied, in breach of the company’s own rules. His previous behavior and performance were called into question, and he was subsequently fired.
Andrew Herriot, managing director for the firm who was responsible for Ajanaku’s firing, said he would have been OK with the absence if it wasn’t for his being “unreliable and shirking work.”
In his dismissal letter, Ajanaku was told it was “unacceptable” for him to have “failed to attend work” during the week he spent in recovery.
The tribunal ruled that “Mr Ajanaku’s absence which arose from his disability of anaphylaxis was a significant part of the reason for his dismissal.”
The judge ruled that while it wasn’t unreasonable for the company to ask for a medical certification, Ajanaku suffered “unfavorable treatment” because he wasn’t told the company had a right to ask for it and because he was called to the meeting at short notice.
Monsas had some doubts about the genuineness of Mr Ajanaku’s sickness absence and they wished to investigate this, they wished to maintain a satisfactory level of attendance on his part.
We find [that] to be a legitimate aim and they needed medical information in order to manage the situation appropriately. It was not disproportionate to seek a medical certificate for this purpose.
There was no letter setting out the allegations he faced or the possible consequences of the meeting, he was not given time to prepare for the meeting and he was not afforded his right to be accompanied.
He had no idea that a possible outcome of that meeting might be his dismissal. It was not enough for Ms Rigg to simply say in her email [that] he was now on notice that they were taking disciplinary action.
We find that had he not been absent, Monsas would not have dismissed him on May 10 for performance reasons, particularly when this had never been addressed with him.
Was the dismissal a proportionate means of achieving the company’s stated legitimate aims? We find that it was not, particularly in the light of the respondent’s Handbook.
They moved to summary dismissal without an investigation, held a hearing at which Mr Ajanaku did not know the charges or possible consequences in advance and he was not given time to prepare or be accompanied if he had wished.
Compensation for discrimination arising from disability and notice pay will be determined later. He is not entitled to other claims of disability discrimination, harassment, victimization, and unpaid holiday pay.
We are saddened by the turn of events that befell Ope Ajanaku but relieved he survived the anaphylaxis that almost took his life.
Putting aside the employment issues, there are takeaways from this ordeal.
First, if you have been prescribed epinephrine, be sure to take two auto-injectors along everywhere, every time, and administer one when you first suspect anaphylaxis. Epinephrine is the only drug that can halt and reverse the progression of anaphylaxis, but it can’t save your life if you don’t have it with you.
And don’t forget about your food allergy when attending events that involve food. Discuss your food allergy with the caterer in advance, and if you can’t be safely accommodated, avoid eating or bring your own food. While it may not be ideal, suffering a reaction at an event is not ideal either.