Stress is the most common cause of absence for workers and stress-related employee illness is a huge ongoing issue for employers.
In the recent case of Herry v Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) said that stress may not be a disability for the purposes of a claim of disability discrimination.
Mr Herry brought a large number of allegations of race and disability discrimination against his employer. He alleged that he suffered from two disabilities: dyslexia and stress. The employment tribunal dismissed the claim and imposed a heavy costs award against him on the grounds that he had repeatedly been warned that his claim had no reasonable prospect of success. Mr Herry’s disability discrimination claim was rejected as he had failed to show that either his dyslexia or his stress had a substantial adverse effect on his ability to carry out day-to-day activities, which is one of the necessary constituents to establish a disability.
When Mr Herry appealed the decision, the EAT agreed with the employment tribunal’s view on disability discrimination. The EAT noted that the Mr Herry’s stress was “very largely the result of unhappiness about what he perceived to be unfair treatment of him” rather than an illness that would qualify as a disability. It made this distinction clear, stating that “unhappiness with a decision or a colleague, or a tendency to nurse grievances or a refusal to compromise, are not of themselves mental impairments”.
This sentence alone makes the case a useful reference point for employers who recognise the situation where an unhappy employee incurs a lengthy absence, or brings internal procedures to a halt, citing stress as the underlying reason. The fact that the employee had been certified unfit for work by reason of stress for a long period did not mean he was disabled within the legal definition. The focus should always be on the real-life impact of an individual’s condition and whether it inhibits their ability to participate in professional life.
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