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Certain work-related duties could be deemed day to day activities

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Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

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The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) had to consider in this case, Williams v Newport City Council, whether certain work-related duties could be deemed to be day-to-day activities within the definition of a disability under the Equality Act 2010.  

The claimant had been traumatised by a previous court appearance, so when they were told by the respondent that they would be required to attend court as part of their duties, it triggered a severe anxiety reaction and a significant absence from work.

During the period of the absence, the requirement to attend court was not removed from their duties. The claimant raised an internal grievance against this decision, but this was unsuccessful at both the initial stage and on appeal, on the basis that the respondent claimed this was an “essential element” to the claimant’s duties. According to medical reports at the time, the claimant’s GP’s expert opinion was that they would remain unfit to work whilst the requirement to attend court remained.

The claimant was dismissed following the organisation’s managing attendance procedure after some 18 months’ sickness absence.

The claimant brought a disability discrimination claim.

It was found by the Employment Tribunal (ET) that the claimant had a mental impairment from the time they went off sick, through to when they were dismissed. However, prior to the dismissal, the claimant’s health had improved to the point where they could have performed all of their duties, apart from attending court. As this was not a normal day-to-day activity, the claimant at that time was not a disabled person for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. In making this decision, the ET considered that the claimant lived alone and did not need assistance with any household tasks.

As a result, the case was dismissed. The claimant appealed.

It was accepted by both the respondent and the ET that the claimant was unable to attend work due to a mental impairment which was also supported by medical evidence. The only proper conclusion that the ET could have come to, according to the EAT, was that the claimant was impaired throughout the material period and that the impairment had a substantial adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Following this reasoning, the ET could only properly have found that the effect of this impairment was long term and therefore potentially sufficient to meet the definition of disability. Key to this determination was whether or not the inability to attend work due to the requirement to attend court was sufficiently within day-to-day activities.

The EAT held that the ET had failed to take into account its own findings in relation to the claimant’s anxiety at the prospect of being asked to attend court, as it meant that they were not fit to return to work at all unless or until the respondent removed this requirement from their duties. The EAT was critical of the ET’s failure to explain its reasoning around whether or not this requirement would in fact be part of the claimant’s normal day-to-day activities, sufficient to bring it within the definition of disability. Whilst it accepted that this was a matter of factual interpretation, and it was open to the ET to decide either way on this, the reasoning was essential for a decision to be made on whether it had erred in law.

As a result of these findings, the EAT ordered that the case will now go back to the ET to consider whether discrimination took place.

This very issue - whether certain work-related duties could be deemed day-to-day activities within the definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010 - is currently the subject of legal change.  As a result, the decisions in Chacón Navas v Eurest Colectividades SA and HK Danmark v Dansk Almennyttigt Boligselskab extending day-to-day activities to professional duties will no longer be part of the authorities’ tribunals have to take into account. This would mean a narrowing of the interpretation of day-to-day activities, and potentially the removal of this case from the meaning of disability.

To prevent this (subject to parliamentary approval), changes will be made to the Equality Act 2010 by the Equality Act 2010 (Amendment) Regulations 2023 to include the ability to participate fully and effectively in working life on an equal basis with other workers into the definition of disability, enabling the continued application of the wider definition of disability.

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