Could there be discrimination against an employee suffering from ‘automatism’?
Not in the recent employment appealtTribunal decision of Howorth v North Lancashire Teaching PCT, where Mrs Howorth was dismissed after having pleaded guilty to offences of theft, dangerous driving and battery.
Mrs Howorth claimed that she had been suffering from automatism at the time her crimes were committed. She said that a mental illness giving rise to this meant that she was protected by the disability discrimination legislation, and that the employer should have considered alternatives to the dismissal under its duty to make reasonable adjustments.
The employment tribunal had found in Mrs Howorth’s favour, saying that the Trust had not considered alternatives to dismissal and that this would have amounted to a reasonable adjustment. However, they also said that no adjustment could have succeeded and that she would not be entitled to any compensation.
The EAT overturned this decision, saying that, since no adjustment could have been made, there could have been no failure to make reasonable adjustments, and no discrimination under this heading.
The employee’s claim for disability discrimination therefore failed.
Employers need to remember that Tribunals will be looking for a close connection between the behaviour/conviction and the employment, and the application of proper considerations and procedure, even in apparently ‘clear cut’ cases such as these.