Tribunal Victory for Engineer Dismissed Whilst he was Depressed - Lessons to Learn
- Date: Thursday 23rd November 2017
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A recent tribunal has found that an employer who dismissed an engineer who was off sick with depression had acted unreasonably because it did not separate a disciplinary process for misconduct from sickness absence.
In the case, the employee had been signed off sick after he had been informed of allegations of gross misconduct.
When the sickness was extended a third time, the manager wrote to the employee saying the company was proceeding with its sickness absence procedure. The tribunal found that this tied the sickness absence to the ongoing disciplinary process.
Throughout the employee’s absence his employer reminded him that the disciplinary matters needed to be dealt with. The employer was also found to have given the employee unreasonably short amounts of time (often just two days) to respond to written correspondence.
The tribunal found no evidence that that the employer made any attempt to assist the employee back to work, nor did it wait until he was fit before re-considering disciplinary issues.
The employer failed to respond to questions raised by the employee which then contributed to a deterioration in the employee’s health. When the employee was invited to a disciplinary hearing whilst still sick, he requested to have the hearing in the afternoon due to the impact of medication in the mornings. The request was ignored and the hearing opened with the manager saying it would not take long. The tribunal concluded this meant the dismissal was predetermined.
In summing up the case, the disciplinary hearing manager stated that one option was to terminate the employee due to ill health, on the basis of capability. This had not previously been referred to when the employee was invited to the hearing.
Learning Points for Employers are:
- Demonstrate you have acted reasonably towards your employee
- Demonstrate you have considered reasonable adjustments for an employee with a disability
- Do not use emotive language at a disciplinary hearing
- Do not give any indication that the outcome of a disciplinary hearing is pre-determined
- Establish (where practical) if an employee is disabled before considering a dismissal
- When an employee is off sick, allow them a period of recovery before proceeding to a conduct-related disciplinary hearing
- The reason for a dismissal must be the same as the grounds for convening the disciplinary hearing. For example (as in this case) do not dismiss an employee on the grounds of capability or sickness if the disciplinary hearing was convened to consider grounds for gross misconduct.
Further details of the case and commentary are available at: http://www2.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2017/11/06/tribunal-victory-for-engineer-dismissed-while-he-was-depressed.aspx