Big pay-out following workplace voice-loss

A school teacher who lost her voice whilst trying to make herself heard in a noisy classroom, has accepted more than £150,000 in compensation. It is believed that the pay-out is one of the largest of its kind, and may trigger a rush of copycat claims.

This case should act as a reminder to all employers to ensure they have thorough risk assessments in place, along with procedures to adequately monitor the health of their staff. In doing so, they can act early upon warning signals and avoid serious problems in the future.

Joyce Walters, a 50 year old English teacher, developed nodules on her vocal chords which she claimed were the result of having to raise her voice above the noise of a classroom. She subsequently quit teaching and underwent speech therapy after the nodules were identified following surgery.

She says she is still unable to speak for a significant duration without her voice becoming hoarse:

“Teaching was my calling, I adored the classroom and miss it so much, but the problems with my voice make it impossible for me to ever go back.

“I even have to think twice about day-to-day things, like speaking on the phone to my dad in Scotland as my voice is not strong enough to maintain a conversation for any length of time.”

Her symptoms developed within a month of starting work with beginner students that needed to hear her pronunciation clearly, forcing her to repeat herself. Mrs Walters claims that she explained the situation to her employers but was asked to teach more students and was not allowed to stop teaching beginners’ classes.

At an employment tribunal she claimed disability discrimination and was awarded an out-of-court settlement of £11,000. She then filed a personal injury claim where she was awarded £145,000 in a second settlement without any admission of liability on the part of her former employers.

Joanne Jefferies, of the law firm which represented Mrs Walters, said:

“It is now imperative that lessons are not only learned but shared with others throughout the country to ensure that further suffering is prevented.”

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