The recent case of Risby v Waltham Forest demonstrates that there need only be a loose causal link between an employee’s disability and their unfavourable treatment in order to establish a claim for discrimination.
Mr Risby was a paraplegic. He was also known to have a short temper. His employer decided to hold workshops for its employees in a venue which was not wheelchair accessible. This caused Mr Risby to lose his temper, shout at a junior colleague and make some highly offensive, racist comments, resulting in his dismissal for gross misconduct. The employment tribunal dismissed his claim for discrimination arising from a disability, having concluded that there was no direct link between his disability and the conduct which led to his dismissal. The EAT disagreed, deciding instead that, had Mr Risby not been disabled, he would not have been angered by his employer’s decision to hold the workshop in a venue which he could not access. His misconduct was the product of indignation caused by that decision. The fact that his shortness of temper, which was unrelated to his disability, was also a cause of his conduct was not sufficient to undermine the connection with his disability.
The respondent will still have an opportunity to demonstrate that despite Mr Risby’s disability, the dismissal was justified owing to the racist comments. It is, though, important for employers to be mindful that any connection between an employee’s conduct and disability may well be sufficient for a claim of discrimination arising from a disability to be made out. Any such connection must be taken into account when reaching a decision about the misconduct and the appropriate sanction to impose.