Last year, a university law lecturer at BPP University named Elizabeth Aylott was constructively unfairly dismissed and unfavourably treated because of something arising from her disability, despite the fact that other disability related claims were dismissed. She suffered from autistic spectrum disorder, anxiety and depression, which were her disabilities.

A member of the management team talked about her with a colleague and referred to her as a good worker but “mad as a box of frogs”. This comment then got back to her.

She found herself working very long hours including weekends and evenings.

A complaint resulted in a breakdown in the relationship with her employer, in particular, the employer did not allow her to see the complaint or defend herself.

Those three acts were found to be unfavourable treatment, as was the failure to refer her to occupational health.

Other concerns involved a crass and insensitive remark made about how she should have been able to handle her workload – this was inappropriate in the context of what was clearly a poor mental state.

Her employer was found to have failed to reduce her workload or provide extra support or heed any of the indications that she was not coping. Given the numbers of people who are experiencing challenges through the pandemic, you can see how easily an employer can fall into this trap and be found to be guilty of failing to do the right things.

Whenever anybody is complaining of their workload, the hours that they are working or exhibiting other signs that they are suffering from stress and not coping, which could be falling productivity, unusual disengagement or irritability and being more sensitive than normal in relation to normal day to day work related matters, an employer should be considering what they can do to support the employee.

One of the interesting things in this case, is that the employee found a job fairly quickly, so within a 3 month period of her having resigned. However, the Employment Tribunal still awarded her £71,000 worth of compensation for future losses (presumably her new job did not pay as much), £32,000 for past financial losses – so bridging the gap between the jobs, and £20,000 for injury to feelings. The Judge noted that the discriminatory conduct had been integral as to why she chose to resign and that although she had commenced working elsewhere, she remained unwell throughout the period up to the Hearing, when she was able to talk about how the treatment she had received had affected her. This shouldn’t be underestimated.

Managers need to be aware that during a Section 15 of the Equality Act claim that somebody has suffered from discrimination arising from a disability, they need to do the following:

  • Show that their disability causes “something”. That something might be fatigue or more stressed when under pressure or to lose their concentration or not perform as well under pressure.
  • If as a result of that “something” they then receive unfavourable treatment, so that might be performance management, sickness absence management or they aren’t promoted, put forward for training or allocated work, those actions can then be connected back to the disability. The employer has to then show that they are pursuing a legitimate aim and have done so in a proportionate manner when carrying out those actions.
  • For example, it may be that managing absence or attendance at work is a legitimate aim but if the employer has not obtained occupational health advice and has not made real efforts as regards reasonable adjustments, the employer is unlikely to be able to show that their actions were a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Refreshing Law Ltd

8 March 2021