When Does Conduct Arising From Disability Constitute Discrimination?

In the case of Bodis v Lindfield Christian Care Home, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) addressed the question of whether conduct arising from a disability constitutes discrimination under the Equality Act. In this case, the Claimant, who suffered from depression and anxiety, was dismissed after being found responsible for several incidents, including drawing facial hair on photos of staff and other disruptive behaviours. Bodis brought a claim for unfair dismissal on the grounds of disability discrimination. 

The EAT ruled that if a Claimant’s conduct, stemming from their disability is even a minor contributing factor to a decision made by the Respondent, it can still amount to discrimination arising from a disability under Section 15 of the Equality Act. Under Section 15 of the Equality Act 2010, discrimination arises from disability when a person is treated unfavourably because of something related to their disability. 

The tribunal acknowledged that the Claimant’s behaviour during the investigation was influenced by her disability, but ruled that it was only a minor factor in the decision to proceed with disciplinary action. 

However, the EAT disagreed, emphasising that even minor factors can contribute to discrimination arising from a disability if they are deemed an ‘effective cause.’ Despite this ruling, the EAT ultimately upheld the decision to dismiss the Claimant, as it was justified regardless of the influence of her disability-related conduct.

What is Discrimination Arising from Disability?

Discrimination arising from disability occurs when someone is treated unfavourably due to something resulting from their disability, rather than the disability itself. It covers various circumstances such as absences due to medical appointments or the need for specific accommodations. 

Unlike other forms of discrimination, it doesn’t require comparison with others’ treatment. However, it doesn’t apply if the person or organisation was unaware of the disability. Sometimes, discrimination arising from disability can be justified if there’s a legitimate need for a decision that leads to lawful discrimination, despite reasonable adjustments.

Important Takeaways for Employers

Employers have a defence against discrimination claims if they can demonstrate that the treatment was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. In the Bodis case, the Tribunal found that the decision to proceed with disciplinary action was justified as it aimed to maintain disciplinary standards within the organisation.

This case highlights the importance of employers conducting thorough investigations and decision-making processes. Employers should consider all relevant factors, including any influence of the employee’s disability when making decisions that may impact their employment status. It’s crucial for employers to ensure that any actions taken can be objectively justified in the event of a challenge.

Further to this, employers should proactively implement policies and procedures that promote fairness and equality in the workplace. This includes providing training to managers and staff on disability discrimination laws and fostering a culture of inclusion and respect for all employees.

Staying informed about discrimination laws and regularly reviewing policies and practices can help employers mitigate the risk of discrimination claims. Seeking legal advice when dealing with complex employment matters can also provide valuable guidance and support.

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