Under the Equality Act of 2010, for a health issue to be considered a disability it must fit into the following definition:
- A person has a physical or mental impairment, and
- The impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
If an employee has a disability as per the definition in the Equality Act, then they would not need 2 years continuous length of service to pursue action against their employer should they be dismissed. Additionally, if they are successful at the Employment Tribunal, the employee may potentially gain compensation in discrimination claims, and these are uncapped for people with disabilities. With this in mind, employers must ensure that where an employee has a disability, they support and make reasonable adjustments to the employee’s role to accommodate for their individual needs and medical guidance.
Morris V Lauren Richards Case of 2023 – Key Facts
Stephanie Morris, the employee, began to suffer from anxiety in May of 2019. She felt unconfident and overwhelmed with work during this time and thus her health issue continued until her eventual dismissal in September of 2019.
Morris claimed disability discrimination and took her employer to tribunal based on the fact that it was her workplace that had caused the anxiety she was now struggling with.
What did the Employment Tribunal decide?
The Employment Tribunal accepted that Morris’s anxiety was substantial and that it did in fact hinder her carrying out day to day activities. However, they did not accept that it was a long-term issue as it only started a few months before the date of termination, and it did not occur following termination as the anxiety was work related. Therefore they did not conclude that it was considered a disability under the Equality Act.
The Employment Tribunal also took into consideration that Morris had no pre-existing medical history of mental health issues that highlighted she was vulnerable. In fact prior to the matter the only relevant history was when Morris suffered from premature menopause and she had recovered well from that after a short period of counselling.
Morris appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
What did the Employment Appeal Tribunal decide?
The Employment Appeal Tribunal decided that the question of how likely it was that the impairment lasted longer than 12 months or reoccurred had to be addressed before the date of dismissal. They also highlighted that the threshold of whether the impairment was likely to last 12 months or more was low and that therefore the Employment Tribunal should have asked whether “the substantial adverse effect was persisting, when it would have been likely to have ceased and what would have made it cease.”
Due to the fact that the Employment Appeal Tribunal didn’t have the evidence to answer these questions, the case went back to the Employment Tribunal to address matters on the question of long-term effect.
With regards to whether or not the impairment is likely to persist, the Employment Appeal Tribunal highlighted that there is no rule of law saying it is necessary to have medical evidence. In this case, there was no medical evidence on the questions of long term effect of the anxiety and therefore became a matter of factual assessment for the Employment Tribunal to decide.
What should employers take from this?
If an employee is suffering from health issues, the employer should have in place an up-to-date health assessment to help determine whether the condition is considered a disability under the Equality Act. This is considered even more essential for mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.
How Hegarty Solicitors can help
At Hegarty Solicitors we can offer help and advice for a range of employment law issues, from advising on policies and procedures, to assisting with discrimination claims.