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Definition of disability – Williams v Newport City Council

Adrian Fryer

Adrian Fryer

The Employment Appeal Tribunal recently looked in detail at the definition of disability under Equality Act 2010 and, in particular, what should be regarded as ‘day to day activities’ when considering whether a Claimant’s impairment has a substantial adverse impact on day to day activities.

In the case of Williams v Newport City Council, the Claimant was employed as a social worker. The Respondent made changes to her job role and introduced a requirement that she attend court if necessary. She went off-work sick with stress – triggered by the introduction of this requirement (she had previously had a bad experience in court). The Claimant’s GP provided an opinion that the Claimant was likely to make a full recovery as long as she was not required to make court appearances. She was dismissed for capability and claimed unfair dismissal and disability discrimination. Her disability discrimination claims initially failed, as the tribunal held that she was not a disabled person. The tribunal found that her condition did not have a substantial long-term adverse impact on her ability to carry-out day to day activities because the only activity it impacted, on a long-term basis, was attending at court. The tribunal ‘did not consider that that was in any sense a day–to–day activity’.

The EAT overturned this decision. The tribunal had found that the Claimant’s anxiety meant that she could not return to her job at all until the requirement to attend court was removed.  The tribunal, having made these findings of fact, could only properly have concluded that the impairment also had a substantial adverse effect on her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities – it was preventing her from going to work at all. The EAT substituted a finding that the Claimant was a disabled person.

This case should now be looked at in light of the changes to the guidance on the definition of disability contained in the Equality Act 2010 (Amendment) Regulations 2023. The Regulations state that a person’s ability to participate fully and effectively in working life on an equal basis with other workers is relevant when looking at ‘day-to-day activities’.

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