Tribunal was wrong
Social worker with anxiety was disabled & protected by the Equality Act provisions around disability
Mrs Williams was a social worker for Newport City Council (Newport). She worked in a team that assessed prospective foster carers, and the Council’s assessment can be challenged in the family court. Mrs Williams did not usually attend court, but in 2016 was asked to do so by her manager. Her inability to answer questions led to the judge in that hearing being deeply critical of her, leaving her traumatised about future court hearings.
In 2017, Mrs Williams was informed that she was going to be working on viability assessments in future, following a colleague’s retirement, and that she may need to attend court. She was disturbed at this prospect and was signed off with work-related stress. In February 2018, her GP advised that she was likely to make a full recovery provided she was not required to make court appearances. However, during her 18-month absence, Newport did not remove the requirement to attend court and her grievance against this decision was unsuccessful. Mrs Williams did not return to work and was ultimately dismissed under an attendance procedure.
An employment tribunal found that Mrs Williams had a significant mental impairment during the relevant period, but that from around August 2017, her mental health had improved such that she was able to carry out all her duties, except attending court. The tribunal did not consider this to be a normal day-to-day activity, whether in her work role or in general life. The evidence was that Mrs Williams was able to carry out typical daily activities, including work activities. It concluded that she was not disabled under section 6 of the EqA 2010.
Allowing an appeal, the EAT held that the tribunal had failed to consider the implications of its own findings that, after August 2017, Mrs Williams continued to be signed off work, so long as the possibility that she might have to attend court remained. Given that Newport declined to remove that requirement, the effect of the impairment was that she remained unfit to work at all because of intense anxiety at potentially having to attend court again.
Accordingly, the tribunal should have concluded that the impairment substantially affected her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, and that this was sufficiently long-term to amount to a disability. However, the EAT did observe that it does not automatically follow that attending court should be considered a normal day-to-day activity.
You can read the full judgment here.
This blog was written by Karen Jackson, MD/Founder of didlaw (2008).