Fitness instructor with fear of sweat wins discrimination claim after refusing to pick up towel – 7NEWS.com.au

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It seems like a requirement for a job as a fitness instructor – to not be afraid of a little sweat.

But for one fitness worker in the UK, fear of sweat is literally a deep-seated phobia.

When Ali Burton, 27, applied for a job at Nuffield Health in Crawley, West Sussex, she was clear about her fear of bodily fluids, including sweat and blood.

Now, she has won a discrimination claim after her “hygiene anxiety” was triggered by someone asking her to pick up a sweaty gym towel, The Mirror reports.

Burton was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder triggered by “cleanliness and hygiene issues,” a tribunal heard.

Her duty manager, Sean Foord, had asked her to pick up sweaty towels at the end of a shift in May 2018.

“He started to check the free weights area and upon arrival here I mentioned that apart from a couple of towels, all was good,” Burton said in her witness statement.

Ali Burton has anxiety around hygiene and bodily fluids.
Ali Burton has anxiety around hygiene and bodily fluids. Credit: Nuffield Health/Getty

“He saw the sweat towels on the floor. He then asked why they were still there.

“I informed him I could not pick them up.

“He then questioned why I could not pick them up. I was taken aback by his comment and felt awkward and embarrassed.

“I replied with, ‘it’s just something I can’t do.’ I was uncomfortable at this point as we were in a public environment, the gym was not closed.”

Foord then asked Burton to pick the towels up with gloves on, telling her “we all have to do things that are unpleasant.”

She then had to explain that she had a recognised issue and it wasn’t just that she was unwilling or too lazy to pick the sweaty towels up.

“I felt pressurised that he would not accept my explanation, but I then reiterated that I could not do it because of the potential that the towel would touch my body,” she said.

Nuffield Health in Crawley, West Sussex, UK.
Nuffield Health in Crawley, West Sussex, UK. Credit: Google Street View

Again, Foord asked Burton to explain what the problem was.

“He was challenging everything I said,” Burton said in her statement.

“He then proceeded to pick up the two towels, mockingly held them with arms outstretched and said, ‘you can do it like this – it’s good for the deltoids’.

“He then put the towels in the towel bin.”

‘My heart was pounding’

She claimed Foord also said Burton’s issues with bodily fluids could affect her ability to work at Nuffield Health.

“My heart was pounding, I was very overwhelmed, I just didn’t want to be alone with him or near him.”

The tribunal agreed that Foord had failed to recognise that Burton had a medical condition that she was trying to explain.

He was unaware of her condition despite the company being made fully aware of it during Burton’s job interview.

The tribunal noted that the occupational health department had advised her not to undertake hygiene-related tasks, as they could trigger her anxiety.

Agreed modifications

When she was employed, she was classified as fit to do the role with a set of “agreed modifications.”

However, the company’s fitness manager at the time, Sarah Norma, said she did “not understand why the claimant wanted to work in a gym if she was afraid of sweat.

The tribunal judge ruled Burton had been discriminated against for her disability.

Her compensation figure has yet to be determined.

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