The Claimant in this case was a Senior Technologist with the Respondent. She brought a claim of disability discrimination against her employer.
For a case like this the first stage is to decide whether the Claimant is in fact disabled. The Claimant suffered from anxiety. This was found to have a substantial impact on her life and ability to carry out everyday activities, thus satisfying the first part of the legal definition of disability. Where the Claimant’s case fell short was the ‘long term’ requirement. This means the condition has lasted or is likely to last 12 months or more. At the time of the Claimant’s dismissal she had been suffering from anxiety for around three and a half months.
The last part of the question for the tribunal was then to consider if the impairment was likely to last longer than 12 months. They were not persuaded that it would, because they considered the Claimant’s anxiety was closely linked to her demanding job and the issues she was experiencing in the workplace. They did not believe that the anxiety would continue after the Claimant was dismissed. She did not have a previous history of mental health issues.
The Tribunal was therefore of the opinion that the Claimant was not disabled. She appealed this decision.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) disagreed with the approach taken by the Tribunal. They concluded that too much weight was placed on the assumption that the Claimant’s anxiety would end on the termination of her employment.
The case of Parnaby v Leicester City Council was used to illustrate this point. The judgment in this case stated that the decision to conclude the Claimant was not disabled was “informed by the fact that the Claimant had been dismissed, which had removed the cause of the impairment, the work-related stress. The decision to dismiss was, however, one of the matters of which the Claimant complained as an act of disability discrimination. The ET had needed to consider the question of likelihood, whether it could well happen that the effect would last at least 12 months or recur, at the time at which the relevant decisions were being taken, which was prior to the implementation of the decision to dismiss.”
They also stated that the bar was low for proving this element of the long-term definition. The appropriate test is whether it “could well happen”.
The EAT has remitted the question of whether the impairment was likely to be long term back to the Employment Tribunal. This means that the EAT has not decided that the Claimant definitely is disabled, just that the way the tribunal came to this conclusion was incorrect.
For employers this case is a good reminder that the legal definition of disability can encompass a wide range of conditions provided they impact a person’s daily life and is long term. Therefore, it is very important that employers are aware of their duties to make reasonable adjustments.
If you have any questions on any of the issues raised in the above article, please contact Natalia Milne.