‘Arcane and unwieldy’ processes leave employer embroiled in dispute…
…but Court of Appeal rejects discrimination claims.
Disabled employees are protected from discriminatory treatment by the Equality Act 2010, including direct discrimination, indirect discrimination and discrimination arising from disability. Savvy employers are aware of the need to obtain up-to-date medical reports and make reasonable adjustments to support disabled staff. However, a recent case in the Court of Appeal demonstrates how poorly designed processes can undo good intentions and invite entirely avoidable tribunal claims.
The case concerned Dr Dunn, a prison inspector employed by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). Dr Dunn suffered with depression from late 2012 and was diagnosed with a serious heart condition in 2015. He applied for early retirement due to ill health in November 2014 and, after substantial and “reprehensible” delays, was eventually permitted to retire in February 2016. Although his line manager had been “sympathetic and humane”, Dr Dunn was aggrieved by the handling of his application and brought a suite of claims against the MoJ, including direct discrimination on grounds of disability and discrimination arising from disability.
After reviewing the previous judgments of the Employment Tribunal and the Employment Appeal Tribunal, the Court of Appeal held that Dr Dunn had not suffered any unlawful discrimination. Dr Dunn had not been treated less favourably than others because of his disability, nor had he been subjected to unfavourable treatment because of something arising in consequence of his disability. While the Court was critical of the MoJ’s ‘arcane and unwieldy’ processes and the competence of the managers applying them, it did not follow that because those processes were deficient they were also discriminatory.
Although the Court dismissed the discrimination claims on the specific facts of this case, the outcome should not disguise the importance of following fair and timely processes and training key staff to implement them properly. As well as the loss of employee goodwill, negative publicity generated, and management time eaten up when procedures drag on and complaints or applications are unresolved, situations such as this also raise the spectre of breach of contract and constructive dismissal claims. If you think your existing procedures could be improved, please contact us for advice on the best way to implement changes.