Stress: A Reaction to Circumstances?

21 Dec

Reactive stress is sometimes insufficient to provide an employee with the added protection for those classed as disabled under the Equality Act 2010. The case of Herry v Dudley Metropolitan Council UKEAT/0100/16 is a useful reminder of this. Those who have advised in stress cases will be aware of J v DLA Piper UK UKEAT/0263/09 which made the distinction between someone suffering from a mental impairment such as depression and someone who was reacting to circumstances...

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Reactive stress is sometimes insufficient to provide an employee with the added protection for those classed as disabled under the Equality Act 2010. The case of Herry v Dudley Metropolitan Council UKEAT/0100/16 is a useful reminder of this. Those who have advised in stress cases will be aware of J v DLA Piper UK UKEAT/0263/09 which made the distinction between someone suffering from a mental impairment such as depression and someone who was reacting to circumstances.

Mr Herry lodged many sickness certificates with his employer and had been continuously away on sick leave from June 2011. Analysis of his sickness certificates showed that they fell into two main periods. From May 2010 until April 2013 the certificates usually referred to a physical injury: they referred to a fractured ankle, to post-operative recovery, to "leg pain and stress" and to "ankle pain and stress". But then, from October 2013 onwards, they ceased to refer to any physical problem, giving the description "stress at work", "work related stress", "stress", or "stress and anxiety".

He took no medication for stress and was mentally and physically fit to perform his role but there were still outstanding management (non-medical) issues at the workplace which were causing him stress.

Having reviewed the findings of the Employment Tribunal, HHJ Richardson looked at Piper noting the distinction made between a mental impairment and a reaction to circumstances. He then went onto uphold the Tribunal’s decision that although the stress had lasted for more than 12 months it could not be said to be a mental impairment as it was a reaction to particular circumstances. HHJ Richardson also noted the lack of a diagnosis other than ‘stress’ and the fact that but for the work circumstances there was nothing to indicate that the ‘stress’ was having a substantial impact on his day-to-day activities.

In essence, Mr Herry’s stress was a result of his unhappiness about what he perceived to be unfair treatment of him by his employer and this, without more, meant he was not disabled.

Peter D

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