The Claimant in this case worked as a social worker for Newport City Council. Her job involved assessing the suitability of potential foster carers. Decisions made by the Council could be challenged in court, and in one such challenge in 2016 the Claimant found herself experiencing difficulty in answering the judge’s questions, leading the judge to be very critical of her in the hearing. This experience made her anxious about going to court in the future. In 2017 she was informed that due to a colleague’s retirement she may be required to attend court. This led to her to being signed off with stress for 18 months. Her GP stated that as long as the Claimant would not be required to attend court she would make a full recovery. But this requirement was not removed by the Council. She raised a grievance on this issue which was not upheld. The Claimant was unable to return to work and was dismissed through the attendance procedure.
The Claimant took the Council to an employment tribunal with claims of unfair dismissal and disability discrimination. The tribunal firstly had to make a finding on whether the Claimant was in fact disabled. It was acknowledged that the Claimant had anxiety. The tribunal then considered whether the Claimant’s condition had the required substantial and long-term adverse effect on her day to day activities during that period and was not satisfied that it had. It noted that the Claimant had been significantly unwell from March 2017 up to broadly the end of August 2017 but from that point onwards appeared to be ready to return to work subject only to the removal of the requirement to attend court. Attending court was not a day to day activity. Therefore, whilst her claim for unfair dismissal was successful her claim for disability discrimination failed.
The Claimant appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT). The EAT disagreed with the tribunal’s assessment on disability. The tribunal had accepted that if the requirement to attend court was removed the Claimant would have been able to return to work. Since it was not removed, her intense anxiety prevented her from attending work at all. The Council’s refusal to do this prevented her return, and therefore her condition did have a substantial adverse effect on her day to day activities. The Claimant was therefore disabled in terms of the law. The case was referred back to the tribunal to determine the validity of her discrimination claims.
This case illustrates the law in this area can be complex and fact specific. The EAT was at pains to make clear that it was not saying that attending court was a day to day activity. But, said the EAT, the effect of the Claimant’s impairment was that this caused her such a degree of anxiety that she was unable to return to her job at all. The tribunal having concluded that that her work tasks generally involved normal day to day activities, the EAT considered that meant the tribunal should have gone on to conclude that the legal definition of disability was satisfied.
If you have any questions on any of the issues raised in the above article, please contact Natalia Milne.