Trainer with fear of sweat who refused to touch used towels wins disability case

A fitness instructor scared of sweat has won a claim against a gym colleague who asked her to collect dirty towels.

Ali Burton, 27, revealed her anxiety disorder when she interviewed for her job at Nuffield Health gym in Crawley, West Sussex but was later criticised for refusing to pick up sweat covered towels, Metro reports.

An employment tribunal in Croydon, south London, heard Ms Burton's manager Sarah Norman compare her phobia to "someone with a milk allergy deciding to work in Costa".

Another colleague Sean Foord is said to have chipped in on the conversation by picking the towels up with outstretched arms, suggesting: "You can do it like this — it’s good for the deltoids."

Personal trainer Ms Burton explained she has suffered from Generalised Anxiety Disorder for several years which can be triggered by bodily fluids including sweat and blood.

Her anxiety can cause her to become upset, emotional and interfere with her sleep, which she said was the case regarding instructions from when duty manager Mr Foord to pick up the towels at the end of a session on May 30, 2019.

Ms Burton had only been employed by the gym for a few weeks at the time of the incident.

The tribunal heard Mr Foord was persisting she grabbed the towels even after she explained that it was "just something I can’t do".

Ms Burton said he told her "we all have to do things that are unpleasant", and suggested wearing gloves. "I felt embarrassed at having to explain and justify my condition," she told the tribunal.

"I was trying to say I cannot physically do it." She added the incident had led to her being branded by staff as "difficult" — and Ms Norman had said that she "did not understand why she wanted to work in a gym if she was afraid of sweat".

The tribunal said: "Mr Foord should have realised the claimant was trying to convey that she had a medical condition."

Ms Norman was judged to be "out of her depth" and a compensation figure for Ms Burton, who is still employed by the gym, will be awarded at a later date.

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