Thursday 7th June 2018
In the case of City of York v Gossett, the Claimant, Mr Grosset (“G”), was a teacher and Head of English at a school operated by the City of York Council (“YCC”). G suffers from cystic fibrosis and YCC was aware of this.
Following a change of Head teacher, G’s workload increased substantially and G struggled to cope and suffered from stress.
On the final day of the students’ exams, G taught a group of pupils aged 14-15 (known as a ‘nurture’ class) and showed them an 18 rated film (Halloween).
Around the same time, G’s health deteriorated and he took time off work and the details of the film shown came to the attention of the Head teacher. G was suspended, subject to a disciplinary process and was later dismissed for gross misconduct. He brought claims for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination.
Although the dismissal itself was found to have been fair, it was held that YCC had discriminated against G when it dismissed him for misconduct even though YCC was not aware that the employee’s actions were due to his disability.
The law does not require the employer to know that there is a link between any misconduct and the individual’s disability and so it was found that the school had breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments in respect of G’s workload, and that G had made an error of judgement in showing the film due to the stress he was under.
The conclusion was that the stress G was suffering from was, in a large part, due to his disability, and had he not been suffering from increased stress, he would not have made the error (of showing the film).
This case widens the protection for individuals with disabilities and illustrates that employers can be held liable for discrimination arising from disability even when they think that there is no link between an employee’s actions and their disability.
In this case, G was holding down meaningful employment whilst managing a severely debilitating condition. Employers who are considering disciplining a disabled employee should always consider obtaining medical evidence on whether the employee’s actions could in any way be a consequence of their disability. If an employer has done what it reasonably can do to establish if there is a link between the behaviour and the disability, then it will reduce the risk of successful claims. If there is still doubt then giving an employee the benefit of the doubt may still be the safest course of action.