Loose Connection Between Conduct and Disability Sufficient for Discrimination Arising from Disability Claim


3 mins

Posted on 10 May 2016

A disabled employee dismissed for misconduct could claim that his dismissal was discrimination arising from disability even though his bad tempered outburst which led to his dismissal was a character trait unrelated to his disability. 

Speedread

A disabled employee dismissed for misconduct could claim that his dismissal was discrimination arising from disability even though his bad tempered outburst which led to his dismissal was a character trait unrelated to his disability. He used a wheelchair and his conduct resulted from his indignation at the employer’s decision to hold training in a venue which he could not access; his disability was an effective cause of that indignation and so of his conduct. This was sufficient to enable him to claim discrimination arising from disability. 

Facts

In

Risby v London Borough of Waltham Forest, Mr Risby is a paraplegic and uses a wheelchair. His employer invited him to attend workshops for managers. Initially these were held at an external venue with wheelchair access, but for cost reasons the employer moved them to its own premises. When Mr Risby arrived for his workshop he found it had been moved to a basement location which was inaccessible for him. He lost his temper, shouted at a junior colleague and made racially abusive comments. 

Following a disciplinary investigation he was summarily dismissed for gross misconduct. He claimed discrimination arising from disability, arguing that his bad tempered outburst was a consequence of his disability. The employment tribunal rejected his claim, finding that his bad temper was a character trait unrelated to his disability. He appealed.

Decision

The Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld his appeal. Only a loose causal link between an employee's conduct and their disability is needed for a discrimination arising from disability claim to be made out. Mr Risby’s misconduct resulted from his indignation at the employer’s decision to hold the training in a venue which he could not access; his disability was an effective cause of that indignation and so of his conduct. Although Mr Risby’s personality trait of shortness of temper was also a cause of his conduct, and one which did not arise from his disability, this did not negate the fact that Mr Risby's conduct arose in consequence of his disability. 

Implications

When disciplining a disabled employee for misconduct, employers should consider whether the misconduct may be in some way connected to disability. The decision in this case that there was a sufficient (albeit loose) connection, even where the employee’s bad temper was found to be a personality trait unconnected with his disability, seems to go further than previous case law on this issue. The employer is seeking leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal.

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