This was the question for the Court of Appeal in the case of ICTS (UK) Ltd v. Visram [2020] EWCA Civ 202. Mr Visram had been employed by American Airlines before his employment transferred to ICTS. His contract of employment included long-term disability benefits. The benefits were set out in a booklet, which stated that the payments would continue until the earlier date of “your return to work, death or retirement”.

Mr Visram became ill and was unable to work, despite attempting, unsuccessfully, to do so. He began to receive long-term disability benefits after a 26-week absence. However, he only received benefits for 12 months and was then dismissed by ICTS. His claims of unfair dismissal and disability discrimination succeeded and he was awarded compensation on the basis that the benefits would have continued until death or retirement. ICTS unsuccessfully appealed to the EAT and its further appeal to the Court of Appeal has now been rejected.

ICTS sought to argue that “return to work” meant a return to work in any capacity, not the job that Mr Visram was doing prior to going off sick. However, the Court of Appeal did not agree. It said that the natural reading of the words in the context of the booklet was clear and meant return to his role. If the person drafting the booklet had meant for the benefits to stop when Mr Visram was able to return to any work, then it should have been specifically set out.

Points to note: it is imperative to be clear about what benefits are provided for under long-term disability benefit schemes. Some schemes will provided benefits until the employee is capable of return to the same role, while others will provide benefits until the employee can return to any role. Some of the wording of the schemes can be less clear. Given the large sums at stake if the employer gets it wrong, it is vital that employers fully understand the terms that apply to their policy.