In the recent case of Morris v Lauren Richards Ltd, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) considered the definition of disability, in particular, the issue of whether an impairment was likely to last at least 12 months. This ruling is an important reminder of the approach an employment tribunal should apply when considering whether an individual is disabled, and the “low threshold” attached to it.
The statutory definition of a disability
A person will have a disability where they have a physical or mental impairment and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
An impairment will be considered “long-term” if, at the time of the alleged discrimination, it:
- Has lasted for at least 12 months
- Is likely to last for at least 12 months
- Is likely to last for the rest of the life of the person affected
In this case, Miss Morris suffered with anxiety, which started when she experienced a loss of confidence and being overwhelmed at work. She did not have a history of mental health issues. She alleged discriminatory acts took place. At the time of these alleged acts, she had been suffering from anxiety for three and a half months. She brought a claim in the tribunal for disability discrimination.
The employment tribunal accepted that the claimant’s anxiety was an impairment which had a substantial adverse effect on her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. When considering whether the impairment was likely to last for at least 12 months, the tribunal considered the cause of the anxiety (workplace issues) and attached material weight to the fact that there was nothing to suggest that the anxiety would persist post-termination, once she had left the work environment. They therefore concluded the impairment was not likely to last at least 12 months and so she was not disabled.
The claimant appealed on the basis the tribunal had mistakenly taken into account events after the date of the alleged acts of discrimination.
Employment Appeal Tribunal decision
The EAT allowed the appeal, holding that the tribunal should have considered the likelihood of the impairment lasting for at least 12 months at the date each alleged act of discrimination happened. They should not have considered things that occurred after the alleged acts of discrimination, such as her dismissal. The EAT also noted that the threshold for a disability is relatively low. The tribunal only had to establish that the impairment “could well” last for 12-months.