Medical conditions and the disciplinary process

Year Published: 2021

Medical conditions and the disciplinary process; the case of Dytkowski v Brand FB Ltd is an important reminder for employers to consider an employee’s medical condition when following a disciplinary process, especially when it comes to possible dismissal.

 

Facts

The claimant was type 1 diabetic. Since his diagnosis, there had been a number of occasions when he had become angry and his temper had flared up. Previously his employer had dealt with incidents informally, however the incident which forms the basis of the claimant’s claim for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination was dealt with via a disciplinary process and ended in the claimant’s dismissal from his employment.

 

The incident

The claimant had an outburst of anger and made a threat to a fellow colleague. The claimant admitted the conduct and was suspended pending investigation.

During the investigation, the claimant explained that his blood sugars had been consistently going up and he described feeling ‘horrible’ leading up to the incident. Occupational Health completed a report which stated that the claimant had been struggling to cope with his diagnosis and recommended that he undertake cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which the claimant did.

During the disciplinary hearing, the claimant produced records of his blood sugar levels as evidence. When describing his anger during the incident in question, he said that he ‘exploded’ and relied on the evidence of his blood sugar levels as the explanation for his behaviour. The claimant confirmed that he had begun CBT and felt he could learn from the incident and improve. It was clear that the claimant recognised his wrongdoing and wanted to learn from it moving forward.

The respondent did not accept the claimant’s explanations and dismissed him for gross misconduct.

 

Decision

The Employment Tribunal upheld both the claimant’s claims of disability discrimination and unfair dismissal.

The Employment Judge found the claimant to be a credible witness and held that his diabetes had a significant influence on his behaviour on the day of the incident, confirming that this was enough for the test to be satisfied, as there is no requirement for his diabetes to have been the sole cause.

The Employment Judge confirmed that a final written warning would have been a reasonable and appropriate sanction and that dismissal was not justified or proportionate when considering the claimant’s length of service and good disciplinary record. The Judge felt that the claimant understood that his conduct was unacceptable and that he would have been receptive to a warning.

The respondent had also given evidence that during the nine months from the claimant’s diagnosis to the date of the incident there had been a noticeable change in his character. The Employment Tribunal placed weight on this as evidence that there was clearly a link between the diagnosis and the behaviour.

The Employment Judge did however decide to reduce the claimant’s compensation by 30% for contributory fault, on the basis that, regardless of anything else, this was still a serious incident and the claimant had let his emotions get the better of him. However, the claimant was still successful in his claim.

What to take from the judgement

The decision in this case is a good reminder to employers that it is important not to disregard medical conditions during a disciplinary process, particularly when you are considering dismissing an employee.

Employers need to ensure they take all factors into account when deciding on the outcome of a disciplinary process. This includes medical conditions but may also include whether the claimant has admitted fault and how receptive they may be to improving their behaviour and whether the conduct is likely to be repeated.

Disregarding an underlying medical condition can quickly lead to a claim of disability discrimination, as this particular case shows all too clearly. Employers should also note that an employee does not require two years’ service to bring a claim for discrimination. It is therefore important for employers to be vigilant when deciding how to sanction an employee in this kind of situation.

 

For more information on this topic, please contact Aisling Foley in our employment team on 0161 475 1210 or [email protected]


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