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Social Worker’s Anxiety at Prospect of Attending Court Ruled a Disability

Activities that some people might find unconcerning can, for others, be a source of anxiety amounting to a full-blown disability. The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) made that point in the case of a senior social worker who found the prospect of attending court hearings deeply disturbing.

The woman, who dealt with many difficult matters involving children, had in the past attended a court hearing during which she was the subject of judicial criticism. She described the experience as traumatic. After her local authority employer indicated that she would be required to attend further court proceedings as part of her duties she suffered an acute anxiety reaction and was signed off sick by her GP.

Her internal grievance against the requirement that she attend court was rejected on the basis that such attendance formed an essential part of her job. The council remained firm on the issue and she had been on sick leave for 18 months when she was dismissed under its attendance procedure. An Employment Tribunal (ET) subsequently upheld her unfair dismissal claim.

In rejecting her complaints of disability discrimination, however, the ET found that, by the date of her dismissal, her mental health had improved to the point where she would have been able to perform all the duties required of her, apart from attending court. On that basis, the ET found that she was not, on the relevant date, disabled within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010.

In upholding her appeal against that conclusion, the EAT noted that the genuineness of her mental impairment was undisputed. The ET had erred in failing to take into account its own findings that her anxiety at the prospect of being required to attend court meant that she would not be fit to return to work at all unless or until the council agreed to waive the requirement that she do so.

Given those findings, the ET could only properly have concluded that, throughout her sickness absence, her condition amounted to a disability, as defined by the Act. She was suffering from a long-term mental impairment which had a substantial adverse effect on her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Her disability discrimination claims were reinstated and the EAT directed that they should be considered by either the same or a freshly constituted ET.

Published in
14 November 2023
Last Updated
5 December 2023