In this case, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) provides guidance on when stress attributed to difficulties at work may be regarded as a ‘disability’ under the Equality Act 2010.
Herry v Dudley Metropolitan Council, EAT
H was employed as a teacher and part time youth worker. In 2014 he brought tribunal proceedings against the council, including a claim for disability discrimination. He claimed that his disabilities were dyslexia together with stress and depression.
During his employment, he had spent long periods on sick leave. Initially, most of his sick certificates made reference to a physical injury. From 2013 onwards, the certificates referred only to ‘stress’, ‘work-related stress’ or ‘stress and anxiety’. There was no reference to depression.
The tribunal found that neither H’s dyslexia nor his stress had a substantial adverse effect on his ability to carry out day to day activities, meaning that he was not a disabled person at the material time. The tribunal concluded that H’s stress was largely a result of unhappiness at his perceived unfair treatment by the council.
H appealed to the EAT.
The EAT was satisfied that the tribunal had correctly concluded that H was not disabled and dismissed his appeal. H’s stress was a reaction to life events, rather than a mental impairment. There was a “dearth of information” in the medical documents about his ‘work-related stress’. The occupational health report noted that he took no medication to manage his stress and he was physically and mentally fit for work. It referred only to the stress attributable to previous tribunal proceedings.
In its decision, the EAT makes a number of useful observations in relation to cases where an employee’s work situation is the cause of their stress. Unhappiness with a decision or a colleague, a tendency to nurse grievances, or a refusal to compromise, are not of themselves mental impairments but may simply reflect a person’s character or personality. An employment tribunal is not bound to find that there is a mental impairment for the purposes of establishing disability in such a case.
Medical evidence to support a diagnosis of a mental impairment must be considered carefully by the employment tribunal. Without such evidence, and relying solely on the references to ‘stress’ on GP sick certificates, will not be sufficient for a claimant to establish a disability.
The content of this article is for general information only. For further information regarding workplace stress and disability, please contact Liz Stevens or a member of Birketts’ Employment Law Team. Law covered as at January 2017.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at January 2017.