The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has considered whether an employer had a duty to make reasonable adjustments in respect of a teacher suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Lamb v The Garrard Academy UKEAT/0042/18

Facts

Ms Lamb, a school teacher, was off sick due to depression and alleged bullying at school. In March 2012 she raised a grievance, which was upheld by the school’s head of HR. However, the grievance report was regarded as inadequate and set aside by the chief executive. In July 2012, Ms Lamb informed the school that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), due to childhood experiences, which was triggered by difficult situations. An Occupational Health report in November 2012 suggested a good prognosis for recovery from her depression, provided the issues around Ms Lamb’s grievance were resolved. Following a further investigation, her grievance was rejected.

Ms Lamb brought claims for disability discrimination, including a failure to make reasonable adjustments in relation to the handling of her grievance. The school accepted that she had a disability due to the PTSD, but denied that they had a duty to make reasonable adjustments at the time of the grievance. The employment tribunal held that the school was under a duty to make reasonable adjustments from November 2012 (the date of the Occupational Health report), which was one year after the symptoms first appeared. The school did not know that she was a disabled person until then, meaning that the duty had not arisen before that date.

Ms Lamb appealed to the EAT.

EAT decision

The EAT allowed the appeal, finding that the school had actual knowledge of Ms Lamb’s PTSD from the date in July 2012 when she had informed them of her condition, and constructive knowledge by the time of the original grievance report earlier in July. The duty to make reasonable adjustments, therefore, arose in July rather than November 2012.

The EAT held that it would have been a reasonable adjustment for the school to have carefully read the original grievance report, rather than disregarding it completely. A member of the executive team should have taken steps to remedy the defects in the report and complete it by the end of the summer term, to avoid prolonging the process unnecessarily.

Consequences

This decision is a useful reminder that employers may have ‘constructive knowledge’ of a disability earlier than having actual knowledge, meaning that the duty to make reasonable adjustments has already arisen. It also highlights the importance of making an early referral to Occupational Health in cases of long term sickness absence.