12 May 2016 #Employment
The recent case of Risby v London Borough of Waltham Forest has arguably further extended the scope of discrimination arising from disability claims by loosening the causal link required between the employee’s disability and the employer’s treatment complained of.
The Claimant, Mr Risby, had been employed by London Borough of Waltham Forest (LBWF). Mr Risby was a paraplegic and used a wheelchair. Mr Risby lost his temper when a workshop organised by his employer was moved to an alternative venue that was not suitable for wheelchair access. This meant Mr Risby was no longer able to attend the event. Aggrieved by this change, Mr Risby lost his temper and shouted at a colleague in a manner that was deemed offensive and racist resulting in his summary dismissal for gross misconduct.
The employment tribunal originally struck out Mr Risby’s claims for unfair dismissal and discrimination arising from disability, holding that his short temper was a personality trait unrelated to any disability he had. The ET argued there was no direct link between Mr Risby’s disability and the unfavourable treatment.
Conversely on appeal, the EAT noted the looser approach to causation through previous decisions such as Hall v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police where it was decided that a loose casual link between the action arising in consequence of the disability and the unfavourable treatment sufficed in meeting the requirements of a claim under the Equality Act 2010.
Although Mr Risby’s short tempered nature was not related to his paraplegia, the EAT held that the Claimant would not have been angered by his employer’s decision to move the workshop to a new venue had the Claimant not been disabled and consequently would not have lost his temper. The Claimant’s appeal was allowed and the case has been remitted for a rehearing.
This case acts as a warning to employers to maintain an air of caution when dealing with employees with a disability and to carefully analyse whether an employee’s reaction to a situation is in relation to a disadvantage that they have suffered as a result of their disability, rather than just simply the effects of that disability. A failure to do so could amount to unlawful discrimination arising from a disability.