Sheffield mum claims Pretty Little Thing staff ‘bullied’ autistic son over mask exemption

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The mother of a man with asperger’s syndrome who works for Pretty Little Thing has slammed his employer’s refusal to recognise his mask exemption after they sent him home for not wearing one and allegedly refused to pay him.

Alison Russell, of Netherthorpe, said her son Lewis, 18, suffers from anxiety attacks while wearing a mask because if his autism.

On bank holiday Monday (May 3) Lewis went into work as a picker at Pretty Little Thing on Shepcote Lane wearing a lanyard saying he was exempt from wearing a mask and was working there without issue for four hours.

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However, one member of staff saw that he was not wearing a mask and took issue with it, Alison explained.

The Pretty Little Thing premises on Shepcote LaneThe Pretty Little Thing premises on Shepcote Lane
The Pretty Little Thing premises on Shepcote Lane

“He was pulled to one side by a manager who said they do not recognise the lanyard, and that he had to get a letter from the doctor.

"I have since checked with the doctor and they said they don’t do letters and you just need to get a lanyard."

Alison said that a team leader then told Lewis to put a mask on, and Lewis agreed. However while he was walking to get a mask he was again pulled to one side and told to put one on.

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Alison said that because the ordeal was triggering Lewis’ anxiety, he was stressed, and he said “to be honest I can’t f*****g breathe”. He was then told by the manager he had to go home because he was being disrespectful by speaking that way.

Lewis agreed to go home, however as he tried to leave the same manager allegedly took away his security pass so he could not get out of the door and made him ask her for it three times.

She also told Lewis that he would not be getting paid for his work that day.

Alison said: “Lewis felt that she was trying to make him retaliate. It was bullying. I feel like he has been singled out and I am not having it.

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"As a parent you fight for children with hidden disabilities all the time and you hope as they grow up they will be treated better. But he was still picked on.

"It was not fair. People with hidden disabilities should not be treated like that.

"Having that job was a big thing for Lewis. He had been in his bedroom for two years and now he had a routine and was earning his own money.

"He was happy there and he was never late for his shifts and he worked hard.

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"This experience has affected his mental health. He was really upset about it.”

Alison added that she and her daughter – Lewis’ older sister – have tried to contact the management at Pretty Little Thing more than thirty times about the incident before they were able to get through.

When she spoke to the manager about what had happened Lewis’ sister said the manager just denied it and then put the phone down.

A spokesperson for Pretty Little Thing said: “We are launching a full investigation into this with our warehouse team. This is something we absolutely will not tolerate and will be taking the appropriate steps.”

Government guidance around mask exemption states: “If you have an age, health or disability reason for not wearing a face covering:

- you do not routinely need to show any written evidence of this

- you do not need show an exemption card

“This means that you do not need to seek advice or request a letter from a medical professional about your reason for not wearing a face covering.”