Copyright Moore Barlow LLP (Moore Blatch and Barlow Robbins merged May 2020)

Is long-term stress a disability?

In the case of Herry v Dudley Metropolitan Council UKEAT/0100/16/LA an Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has provided some welcome guidance on whether long-term stress will be classified as a ‘disability’ for the purposes of discrimination proceedings.

Background

The Claimant (Mr. Herry) was employed by Dudley Metropolitan Council (the Respondent) as a teacher of design and technology. Mr Herry brought proceedings against Dudley Metropolitan Council alleging discrimination because of disability and race. The impairments relied on by the Claimant in his disability proceedings against the Respondent were dyslexia and stress.

The decision of the Employment Tribunal

The employment tribunal decided that the Claimant did not have a disability for the purposes of a discrimination claim. The employment judge cited the Equality Act 2010 definition of a disability which states that a person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment, and that impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse affect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. The employment judge did not consider the claimant to have a disability under this definition. He stated that the Claimant had not proven that either his stress or dyslexia had hindered his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

The decision of the EAT

The EAT agreed with the decision of the employment judge. Considering the judgment of J v DLA Piper UK, the EAT stated that the first question that might be asked in such a case is whether a Claimant’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities had been impaired.  Also of importance is whether an impairment was ‘long-term’ (i.e. more than 12 months).

The EAT however stated ‘unhappiness with a decision or a colleague, a tendency to nurse grievances, or a refusal to compromise‚Ķare not of themselves mental impairments: they may simply reflect a person’s character or personality.’  Even though the Claimant was signed off work due to stress for a long period, the EAT felt there is a distinction between ‘depression’ and an ‘entrenched position.’ Where a person will not give way over an issue at work, but in other respects suffers little adverse effects on their day-today activities they might be suffering from stress, but the EAT held that a tribunal is ‘not bound to find that there is a mental impairment in such a case.’ The EAT agreed with the conclusions drawn by the employment tribunal and the Claimant’s appeal was dismissed. 


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