Mental health was a mitigating factor in inappropriate behaviour

An employment tribunal has made a finding against AstraZeneca who dismissed a senior scientist whose mental health affected his behaviour towards colleagues.

The employee was accused of “repeated inappropriate conduct” towards several colleagues which the employer said amounted to bullying and harassment. However, the employee stated that his behaviour was aggravated by frustration about a stressful project and an apparent lack of management support.

The employment tribunal heard that the employee suffered from depression and anxiety and had previously taken extended sick leave due to his mental wellbeing. No written complaints had been received but the employee was dismissed after an investigation, which found that his behaviour amounted to gross misconduct. The tribunal found that the company’s internal investigators had not considered that the employee’s mental health was a mitigating factor in his behaviour.

The tribunal found that although the employee’s “overly forceful” behaviour towards colleagues was unacceptable, his conduct was connected to his mental health issues and was not something which could be controlled. The employer was criticised for the standard of their investigation, and for failing to consider the way in which the employee’s mental health impacted his interactions with colleagues and for their lack of support towards him. 

Compensation will be decided at a later date.

This is an important case for employers, as it illustrates that all circumstances relating to an employee’s state of mind must be considered as potential mitigating factors when examining their behaviour in the workplace.  If you have concerns relating to conducting full and fair investigations, please contact 121 HR Solutions at enquiries@121hrsolutions.co.uk who can provide support and training for managers. 

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