Obsessive behaviour can amount to a disability – What employers need to know

Published Jan 25, 2024

An employment tribunal judge has recently ruled that obsessive behaviour can amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010. In the case of Courtney vs UBS, a banker suffering with an anxiety disorder that initially presented itself through an obsession with avoiding germs, only drinking bottled water and eating organic food was deemed to be disabled.

When the employee had a baby, the obsessive behaviours shifted to her son. She bought a specialist shower filter system and an air purifier that she transported to wherever her child was located. She also refused to have Wi-Fi in her home due to fears over electromagnetic waves around her and her child.

The tribunal judge found the employee’s obsessions were a mental impairment that had a substantial adverse effect on her ability to carry out normal day-to-day duties and therefore amounted to a disability under the Equality Act.

Learning for employers
This case highlights the need for employers to ensure fair treatment for employees with extreme obsessions and the need to have procedures that provide support.

Steps that employers can take include:

  • Identify the employee’s compulsions and signpost them to external support such as counselling, occupational health or cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Provide support and answer questions about employee worries or self-doubt
  • Help employees to avoid the things that make them anxious (whenever practical)
  • Help the employee to manage compulsions in the workplace by agreeing and documenting approaches that works for both parties
  • Review arrangements regularly with the employee and amend plans (as necessary)
  • Encourage the employee to challenge their compulsions (if you feel comfortable doing so)
  • Reassure the employee that the business supports them
  • Reassure the employee that all discussions are confidential
  • Ask the employee what the business can do to make things easier for them

If you need support managing a disability in the workplace, please contact your SSG HR consultant.