Failure to discount disability-related absence resulted in unfair dismissal

A senior nurse who was sacked for her “unacceptable” sickness absence record caused by migraines, anxiety and depression was unfairly dismissed and discriminated against, a tribunal has found.

An employment tribunal heard that the claimant was the sole carer for her elderly grandmother, suffered from severe headaches, depression and anxiety, which are considered disabilities. There was a failure from her employer to adjust absence targets meant which meant that no allowances were made for any absences beyond those caused by her disability. The tribunal heard that since the start of her employment, the claimant had amassed a total of almost 300 days of absence, the vast majority related to migraines. An occupational health report confirmed that providing care for her grandmother was the main cause of her stress and contributed to the “increased frequency” in migraines


The judge pointed out that the purpose of a reasonable adjustment was to “ensure a level playing field”, but that this could not be achieved “if all of the absences allowed are taken up with disability-related matters, leaving no room for any other legitimate absence”.


The judge also concluded that the dismissal letter demonstrated that the nurse had been dismissed because she failed to meet her attendance targets, stating that the claimant had disabilities which caused her to be absent from work and for which she was ultimately dismissed.


Any health condition may be considered a disability under the Equality Act if it is long term and the symptoms cause an effect on the employee’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.Employers have a legal duty to implement reasonable adjustment to support them in the workplace. This includes adequate support measures, including reasonable adjustments and a sensitive, understanding approach to any health-related conversations.


A compensatory award is being considered at a later hearing.


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