Employment Law Cases

Stress is unlikely to be a disability

Herry v Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council

Unhappiness with a decision or a colleague, a tendency to nurse grievances, or a refusal to compromise (if these or similar findings are made by a tribunal) are not of themselves mental impairments. They may simply reflect a person’s character or personality and are ‘reactions to adverse circumstances’.

Mr Herry was a trained architect who had been teaching for many years. He had raised multiple grievances and had been off work for a long time, the most recent sick certificates referring uniquely to ‘stress at work’ with no indication that he was unable to return to work, subject to issues being resolved to his satisfaction. He was found not to suffer from a disability.

Whilst ultimately the decision as to whether an employee suffers from a disability is one of fact for the tribunal, the EAT reminded themselves that they must carefully consider any medical evidence and also any evidence of adverse effects over and above an unwillingness to return to work until an issue is resolved to the employee’s satisfaction.

The EAT identified a class of case where ‘a reaction to circumstances perceived as adverse can become entrenched; where the person concerned will not give way or compromise over an issue at work, and refuses to return to work, yet in other respects suffers no or little apparent adverse effect on normal day-to-day activities. This will normally be categorised as stress at work and will not normally be a disability … A doctor may be more likely to refer to the presentation of such an entrenched position as stress than as anxiety or depression. An employment tribunal is not bound to find that there is a mental impairment in such a case’.

Link to judgment: http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKEAT/2016/0101_16_1612.html