Stress caused by a disability leads to discrimination finding

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19 June, 2018

In city of York Council -V- Grosset

The Court of Appeal upheld a claim for stress arising out of a disability amounting to discrimination in the workplace. Mr Grosset, an English teacher, who had cystic fibrosis was suffering an increased workload. In conjunction with this, his Department had suffered a dip in learning outcomes following the move to the Progress 8 Attainment Standard. As a result, the new Head Teacher imposed more stringent performance measures on him - it is worthy of note that the Head Teacher did not know of Mr Grosset's medical condition.

As a result of his condition, Mr Grosset had to undergo a strenuous course of daily exercise. The effects of the cystic fibrosis was exacerbated in times of stress. Whilst he was under such stress, Mr Grosset, without seeking parental consent, showed a group of students an 18 rated film. The students in question were aged between 15 and 16.

Mr Grosset was dismissed by the LEA on the grounds of gross misconduct. Whilst the dismissal was upheld to be fair, on ordinary unfair dismissal principles, Mr Grosset successfully argued that his dismissal amounted to discrimination. Put simply, he stated that it was only as a result of the stress that he was under that he made the error of judgment in showing the film; and that the stress arose as a direct result of his disability; therefore, this formed potential discrimination on grounds of his disability. Whilst it would have been open to the employer to argue that this was a proportionate response to achieve a legitimate aim, the Tribunal and the Courts did not agree that dismissal in these circumstances was a legitimate aim.

This is a clear reminder to schools to be mindful of employee's individual circumstances and to be mindful of the stress placed upon those employees. In addition, employers should always take into account any mitigating factors put forward by an employee before making a decision to dismiss; that is even more important when those mitigating factors potentially include matters relating to, or arising from, a disability.

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