Christian Meredith explores whether an employee who was paranoid had a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act.
In a recent case the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) considered whether an employee who had a condition relating to paranoid delusions which negatively impacted his timekeeping ability and led him to believe he was being tracked and chased by a gang of Russians was considered disabled under the Equality Act 2010.
In order to be considered disabled under the Equality Act an employee must have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on their ability to do normal daily activities. ‘Substantial’ means more than minor or trivial and ‘long-term’ means 12 months or more.
The case concerned the employee who was a sales executive with a finance company and following a split in July 2013 with his Ukrainian girlfriend he became convinced he was stalked by a Russian gang. The delusions affected his timekeeping, attendance and record keeping. Although his record improved, he was ultimately terminated for reasons to do with his capability and attitude in 2017.
Following his dismissal, the employee brought a claim for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination (amongst others). The tribunal upheld his unfair dismissal claim however, they found he did not have a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act.On appeal, the EAT agreed with the tribunal that the long-term requirement of the definition of disability was not fulfilled. There was a ‘substantial’ adverse effect however the condition was long-term and unlikely to recur. In fact the condition did recur at a later date but this was not relevant as the assessment regarding the long-term impact was correctly made at the relevant time based on the information and medical advice available.
Although the circumstances of this case are somewhat niche, the case provides a good example of how it is important for employers to consider all the different elements of the disability definition in order to determine if someone is protected. This may well be key to being able to defend any discrimination claim successfully. Regular communication with employees regarding such conditions which might impact their performance at work and obtaining appropriate medical advice is also essential to help mitigate or avoid such claims.