An employee who was made redundant following a period of disability-related sickness absence had not been subjected to discrimination arising from disability, according to the EAT.

Charlesworth v Dransfi elds Engineering Services Ltd, EAT

Facts

Mr Charlesworth was employed as a branch manager by Dransfields. From 2012, the business was looking to make cost savings to improve profitability.

In 2014, Mr Charlesworth developed renal cancer and was off work for a period between October and December 2014. During this period, it was suggested that the business could be restructured with the result that his post would be removed.

Following a period of consultation, Mr Charlesworth was eventually made redundant in April 2015. His claims for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination were dismissed by an employment tribunal. It accepted that there was a link between his disability-related absence and his dismissal, as his absence had highlighted the fact that the business could operate effectively without his role being carried out. However, there was no causative link between his disability and his dismissal.

EAT decision

The EAT agreed with the conclusion of the tribunal and dismissed Mr Charlesworth’s appeal.

To establish a claim for discrimination arising from disability, the unfavourable treatment must be because of ‘something’ arising in consequence of the claimant’s disability, for example, a period of sickness absence. This causal test will be established if the ‘something’ is an effective cause, even if it is not the main or sole cause. In this case, the EAT was satisfi ed that Mr Charlesworth’s absence was not an effective cause of the decision to dismiss him. It was just the context within which the events occurred.

Consequences

At first sight, this decision is reassuring for employers, suggesting that redundancy dismissals either during or following a period of disability-related sickness absence will be harder for employees to challenge. However, in its judgment the EAT makes it clear that each case will turn on its particular facts. It would be risky for an employer to rely on this decision when considering whether to make a disabled employee redundant.