Employee Suffering from Work-related Stress Not Disabled
An employment tribunal had been entitled to find that an employee who suffered stress as a result of difficulties at work was not disabled.
An employee suffering from work-related stress was not disabled. His stress resulted from his unhappiness at the way he had been treated and was clearly a reaction to life events. The employment tribunal had been entitled to find that he was not suffering from a mental impairment and he had provided little or no evidence that his stress had any effect on his ability to carry out normal day to day activities.
In Herry v Dudley Metropolitan Council, Mr Herry worked as a teacher. He brought a disability discrimination claim, claiming that he was disabled by virtue of his dyslexia and stress. He had been diagnosed with dyslexia in 1996 when at university, but he had not mentioned his dyslexia to colleagues or asked for any adjustments at work. His employer accepted that he was dyslexic but denied that he was disabled. From October 2013, he was signed off work with work-related stress.
The employment tribunal ruled that Mr Herry was not disabled. He had not shown that his dyslexia had a substantial adverse effect on his ability to carry out day to day activities. His coping strategies were effective to reduce its adverse effects. As for his stress, although he had been off work for a very lengthy period, he had provided little or no evidence that his stress had any adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day to day activities. His stress resulted from his unhappiness at the way he had been treated and was clearly a reaction to life events.
Mr Herry appealed, arguing that his long term absence from work for stress indicated that his stress had a long term adverse effect on his ability to carry out day to day activities.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal dismissed the appeal. Previous case law makes it clear that there is a difference between stress caused by adverse life events, such as difficulties at work, and a mental impairment. The employment tribunal in this case had found that Mr Herry’s stress was a reaction to life events. It had been entitled to find that he was not disabled. Mr Herry had failed to establish that he had a mental impairment and had failed to establish that his stress had a substantial adverse effect on his ability to carry out day to day activities. The judge was not bound to find that he had a disability because he had been certified as unfit for work by reason of stress for a long period.
Employees will often go sick with stress if they are unhappy with the way they have been treated at work. Their position may become entrenched and they may refuse to return to work until the issue is resolved and yet in other respects they are able to function normally. The EAT said that in such cases, doctors are likely to refer to the employee as suffering from stress, rather than anxiety or depression. This case makes it clear employees will not necessarily qualify as disabled in such cases. The employment tribunal will need to consider whether there is evidence supporting a diagnosis of a mental impairment and whether there is evidence of an adverse effect on the ability to carry out day to day activities, over and above an unwillingness to return to work until the issue is resolved to the employee’s satisfaction.
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