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Making reasonable adjustments for disabled employees often includes ensuring that they are not overworked. The point was resoundingly made by one case in which a cystic fibrosis sufferer who was summarily dismissed from his teaching post after showing pupils a horror film won almost £650,000 in compensation (City of York Council v Grosset).
Despite his condition, the man had achieved great things as head of English at the school where he worked. On taking up the post, various reasonable adjustments had been agreed to cater for his disability, but they were lost sight of when a new head teacher arrived. The man’s medical condition meant that he had to endure a gruelling daily exercise regime and he complained that he could not cope with his increasing workload. He feared that his health would collapse under the strain.
Matters reached a head when he unwisely showed an 18-rated horror film to a class of 15-year-olds. He did so without consulting his superiors or obtaining parental consent. He swiftly admitted that he had made an error of judgment. However, his employer did not accept that his expressions of remorse were sincere and, following a disciplinary process, he was dismissed for gross misconduct.
After he launched proceedings, an Employment Tribunal (ET) by a majority rejected his unfair dismissal claim insofar as it was based on Section 98 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. The ET found that the sanction imposed fell within the range of reasonable responses open to his employer.
However, the ET went on to unanimously hold that his dismissal amounted to an act of disability discrimination, in breach of Section 15 of the Equality Act 2010. That was primarily on the basis that his employer should have reduced his workload and thus the stress that he was under. Had such a reasonable adjustment been made, it was unlikely in the extreme that the horror film incident would have occurred. The ET’s decision was subsequently upheld by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).
In dismissing the employer’s challenge to the latter ruling, the Court of Appeal could detect no error of law in either the ET’s or the EAT’s approach to the case. The test under Section 15 is an objective one and the ET was entitled to conclude that summarily dismissing the man was disproportionate and that there was no good justification for taking such a course. It was also entitled to find that his remorse and acceptance that he had acted inappropriately were genuine. The ET had previously assessed his compensation award at a total of £646,663.
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