A university has successfully seen off an appeal against an employment tribunal backing its approach to managing the workload of a lecturer who had been suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome for many years.

Deborah Foster had been off sick for two years when she was offered a phased return to work programme with input from an occupational health physician. In the long term it had been hoped that the claimant would be able to “attain normal efficiency in the workplace”. As it turned out however, adjustments continued on an informal basis for the next seven years.

Matters came to a head when a new head of department was appointed who had a more “robust” management style. He took steps to increase her workload. This was measured using a system the university had devised, known as the Marriott formula. This was a system of allocating points for different teaching, research and administrative tasks in an attempt to give an objective way to compare academic workloads. Dr Foster was allocated a higher number of Marriott points than previously, but it was still the third lowest in her department. After a number of inconclusive meetings she went on indefinite sick leave.

The tribunal considered the case over a total of 16 days and produced a 65 page judgement. The Employment Appeal Tribunal refused to interfere with what it regarded as an exceptionally careful tribunal decision to the effect that the employer had complied with its duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010. The university may have been vindicated, but this case illustrates the length and complexity of disputes of this nature. Without detailed knowledge of the background, it is difficult to assess how matters could have been handled differently, but as a general rule the longer capability issues take to resolve, the more complex and costly the dispute becomes if litigation follows.