Football club fined £50,000 for dismissing an autistic coach
Football club Arsenal Women has been fined £50,000 by the FA for dismissing a youth football coach shortly after he disclosed suspected autism.
The team was found to have treated the employee “less favourably than [it] would have treated an employee without disability” after the club dismissed him a few days after he disclosed concerns about potentially having autism.
As well as the fine, the Independent Regulatory Commission is requiring Arsenal Women staff members to take an education programme on discrimination, under the supervision of the FA, which originally brought the charges of discrimination against the club.
The commission’s report said the employee disclosed his suspected autism to the technical director of the cub and a meeting was held to discuss how he continued to be affected by autism in his work and personal life. In a subsequent meeting the director informed the coach that he would no longer be engaged by the club as a coach and gave him four weeks’ notice of dismissal.
The club claimed that the coach was dismissed because his coaching philosophy was too focused on winning matches and this was “increasingly at odds” with the club’s drive to develop players. However, this was not accepted as a reasonable excuse for dismissal by the commission, the FA or the employee who brought claims of unfair dismissal and disability discrimination against the club to an employment tribunal. He claimed the reason for his dismissal was linked to his disclosure that he might be autistic and was therefore discriminatory.
On the day the claim was due to be heard by the tribunal a settlement agreement was reached.
But the FA also charged the club with misconduct for treating the coach less favourably because of his disability, and because the club had “actual or constructive” knowledge of his disability prior to his dismissal. The commission started its investigation soon after.
On 27 March 2020, the commission found Arsenal Women had carried out “an act of discrimination” by “reason of disability” in its act of dismissal. It added that the club “should have taken appropriate steps to obtain an accurate diagnosis in relation to his potential disability or encouraged and assisted the employee to obtain a diagnosis for himself” given that he had raised concerns while employed there.
This this case is a clear example of why employers need to respond carefully when informed by an employee of a condition that could impact their ability to conduct their role. Discrimination can still arise even when this is not the intention of the employer and, to this end, employers must be aware of the legal obligations placed on them when managing disabled employees.