In Charlesworth v. Dransfields Engineering Services Ltd the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) upheld the Employment Tribunal's (ET) decision that Dransfields Engineering had not discriminated against the claimant by making him redundant after a period of disability-related sickness absence.
The claimant was off work for three months in 2014, after developing renal cancer. Dransfields had not been profitable since 2012, and so the company was looking to make cost savings. During the time that the claimant was off work the operations manager identified a way of restructuring the business which would remove the claimant's role, saving the company £40,000 a year. The claimant was subsequently dismissed by reason of redundancy, following consultation, in April 2015. The claimant chose not to appeal against his redundancy, however he subsequently brought claims for unfair dismissal, direct disability discrimination and discrimination arising from disability.
The ET found that, whilst there was a link between the sickness absence and the redundancy, the sickness absence was not a causative factor in his redundancy. The claimant's absence had highlighted the fact that the company could operate effectively without his role, however the ET held that this was not the same as his redundancy being because of his sickness absence. The ET therefore dismissed the claimant's claims.
The claimant appealed, arguing that it was sufficient to show a cause or influence that did not need to be a significant or an effective cause in order to meet the requirement in s15 Equality Act 2010 (EA 2010) that it was "because of something arising in consequence of disability".
The EAT dismissed the appeal noting that case law required the influence to be significant for the s15 EA 2010 requirements to be met and that it should be an influence or cause that operated on the mind of the discriminator (consciously or not) to such an extent that it could be deemed to amount to an effective cause of the action (here dismissal). The EAT did however note that, in many cases where absence causes an employer to conclude that they are able to manage without a particular employee, this is likely to be an effective cause of the decision to dismiss (even if not the main cause). However, the EAT then went on to say that just because this is the case it does not detract from the possibility on particular facts that absence is merely part of the context and not an effective cause, as was found to be the case here.
This case is in contrast to the case law to date relating to disability discrimination, where whether something could be said to have arisen in consequence of a disability has been interpreted widely in favour of claimants'. The decision is good news for employers, but it is worth bearing in mind that this case is also highly fact-specific. Where employers are in a similar situation they should note the reasons for the redundancy aside from realising that the role was not needed during the employee's absence. It is also worth noting that it is unlikely that a tribunal would have reached the same finding if the employee had been on maternity leave.