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Disability-related absence didn’t cause redundancy

Charlesworth v Dransfields Engineering Services Ltd

Mr Charlesworth, a branch manager, took a period of sick leave after developing cancer. His employer had been looking to make cost savings, and during Mr Charlesworth’s absence the business identified the possibility of a restructure that would delete his job and save the business up to £40,000 a year.

Mr Charlesworth was made redundant and he brought a claim for disability discrimination and unfair dismissal. The tribunal found that there was no discrimination. The desire to make cost savings was the reason for Mr Charlesworth’s treatment; disability wasn’t the motivating factor. In fact, the reason for the redundancy wasn’t connected to the disability, the tribunal said. It also rejected the unfair dismissal claim.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) upheld that decision. It was a conclusion that the tribunal was entitled to have reached. And one of the really interesting points argued at the EAT was to do with the connection between Mr Charlesworth’s absence and the employer’s realisation that his was a role that could be coped without.

The tribunal had accepted that there was a link between the absence and the dismissal in that the employer had found that it could manage without Mr Charlesworth. But that wasn’t the same as saying that he was dismissed because of his absence (which would be the requirement of a successful discrimination claim in this context). The disability would need to have been an effective cause of the detrimental treatment, and here it was not. Absence was just part of the overall context; it gave the employer the opportunity to identify something that it may very well have identified in other ways and in other circumstances. Ultimately, the absence wasn’t an operative cause.

Although this may be seen as a pro-employer decision, it should be treated with a little caution. The EAT was very clear in pointing out that each case will depend on its own particular facts.