In Monmouthshire County Council -v- Harris 2015, an unfair dismissal case where the reason for the dismissal was long-term ill-health absence, the EAT held that the Tribunal’s decision was flawed, in part because it had failed to consider the central question of whether the employer could reasonably have been expected to wait longer before dismissing the employee.
Mrs Harris had worked for the council since 1992, and was disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. She worked from home for part of the week, but following a change in manager she felt that this arrangement was no longer supported. Mrs Harris went on sickness absence, and was dismissed six months later. At first instance, the Tribunal held that Mrs Harris had been unfairly dismissed and that her dismissal amounted to unlawful discrimination arising from disability (section 15 of the Equality Act 2010). The EAT allowed the appeal, identifying a number of areas in which the Tribunal’s reasoning had been deficient.
As regards the section 15 claim, it was a relevant background factor in the proportionality assessment that the employer had failed to make reasonable adjustments, which might have prevented the absence entirely (even though that claim itself was by then out of time, and there was no continuing obligation as such). The failure to make adjustments was potentially relevant background to the unfair dismissal claim as well, but the Tribunal’s decision that the dismissal was unfair could not stand, because it had failed to consider whether in the circumstances the employer could have been expected to wait longer for the employee to recover before taking the decision to dismiss.