Want to talk to an expert employment law solicitor?

You'll receive a callback from a specialist within an hour

In the case of Mr I Wells v The Governing Body of Great Yarmouth High School (ET/3401100/2015) the Employment Tribunal held that the dismissal of an autistic teacher had been unfair and discriminatory.

The facts in Mr I Wells v The Governing Body of Great Yarmouth High School

Mr I Wells (the ‘Claimant’) commenced employment with the Governing Body of Great Yarmouth High School (the ‘Respondent’) on 1 September 2016.  The Claimant was promoted to Key Stage 4 Mathematics Leader of Learning effective 1 September 2010 and his salary increased because of that additional responsibility.  The Claimant moved very swiftly from the unqualified teacher status that he had when first employed to a position of responsibility in 2010. 

In 2011 the Claimant took on additional responsibilities on a temporary basis (as coordinator of the ICT unit), which was seen a form of temporary promotion and involved an increase in salary; he was expected to revert back to his substantive post and previous salary on 1 January 2013. The Claimant returned to teaching maths slightly later in the year in September 2013 due to assisting a new head of ICT become familiar with the relevant systems. In October 2012, the Claimant applied for the post of Curriculum Lead but was unsuccessful.

On 8 July 2013 the Claimant was observed in one of his lessons. The feedback from the observation – although noting a number of areas were considered “good” and “there are some good ideas”- was that the Claimant’s skills were “not adequate” or “requiring improvement”. The observation also noted that there were areas that “needed development” such as planning, pace, length of time spent on activities, and standards of behaviour. The agreed action was for help and support with lesson planning.

On 4 September 2013 a meeting took place between the Claimant and management. In this meeting a Personal Improvement Plan (PIP) for the Claimant was discussed, with the threat of a formal capability procedure commencing if his performance did not improve.

A further meeting was held on 4 December 2013 to review the Claimant’s performance, and shortly after this meeting the Claimant commenced a long period of sickness absence.  The initial ‘sick notes’ gave his condition as “low mood”, as well as anxiety and depression, from January 2014 to 24 February 2014.  Thereafter the sick notes stated he was suffering from anxiety with depression up to 8 August 2014. The Respondent became aware in March 2014 that the Claimant had been diagnosed as on the autistic spectrum.

The Claimant attended a return to work meeting on 8 September 2014. In this meeting it was discussed that the Claimant would undertake a phased return to work, and that a stress risk assessment would be undertaken to help the Claimant manage his return to work. However, the phased return to work and stress risk assessment were not carried out by the Respondent.

On 22 September 2014 the Claimant received a letter inviting him to a meeting in order to discuss his performance. The letter made it clear that if improvement was not forthcoming then the Respondent may commence its formal capability procedure. On 9 December 2014 the Claimant’s GP certified the Claimant as being unfit to work, and after this date the Claimant did not return to work.

In February 2015 an Occupational Health report was produced. This report (dated 5 February 2015) confirmed that the Claimant was suffering from severe anxiety and mild/moderate low mood. The prognosis of the doctor producing the report was that the Claimant remained unfit for work and that a return in the near future was unlikely. The Respondent, having not acted upon the information that the Claimant was on the autistic spectrum, failed to refer this information to the Occupational Health adviser. 

Between 9 and 12 February 2015 the Respondent and the Claimant’s trade union representative communicated with each other regarding a potential settlement agreement – in this email correspondence the Respondent made it clear that either a settlement agreement was agreed or the Claimant would proceed to an ‘ill health dismissal hearing’. Settlement terms were not agreed and no settlement agreement was signed.

After the failure of the negotiations the Claimant was invited by letter dated 13 February 2015 to attend the threatened “ill-health dismissal hearing”.

The Claimant was invited by letter, dated 13 February 2015, to a meeting on 25 February 2015 which was the threatened “ill health dismissal hearing”. The Claimant had indicated prior to 25 February 2015 that his trade union official would attend the meeting in his absence, so he did not attend this meeting. The outcome of this capability hearing was that the Claimant was dismissed from his employment for the reason of capability/performance.

The Claimant’s trade union representative submitted the Claimant’s appeal on 9 March 2015, appealing against the decision to dismiss on the basis that it was unreasonable and unfair given the evidence presented and the failure of the Respondent to adequately support him since September 2011. This was followed up by an email from the trade union representative dated 10 March 2015 confirming that they would also rely on the School’s failure to comply with both its own procedures and those of Norfolk County Council, and a beach of the duty of care owed by the Respondent to the Claimant.

The appeal was heard on 26 March 2015 with the Claimant referring to being on the autistic spectrum; the Respondent denied being made aware of his condition and dismissed the Claimant’s appeal, upholding the decision to dismiss.

A joint medical report produced for the Employment Tribunal dated 29 February 2016 that was prepared following interviews with the Claimant on 19 and 23 February 2016, confirmed that a formal diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome was made on 23 February 2016. This is a lifelong diagnosis and the effect is long term and would be expected to last for the rest of the Claimant’s life.  The Claimant also suffered from anxiety and depression which had lasted for more than 12 months. The report referred to particular difficulties the Claimant experiences in dealing with change, especially without the right kind of support, would be prone to stress, anxiety and depression.  This in turn would have a substantial adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day to day activities.

The decision of the Employment Tribunal

The Employment Tribunal held that the Claimant was ‘disabled’ by virtue of his Asperger’s syndrome (which the Respondent knew about since March 2014) and the anxiety & depression that he suffered from.

The Employment Tribunal held that the Claimant had been unfairly dismissed from his employment – XYZ.

The Employment Tribunal further held that the Claimant’s dismissal (due to his sickness absence) was an act of discrimination (discrimination arising from disability) – he was dismissed because of the sickness absence, and that the sickness absence had arisen because of something relating to his disability. The Respondent had known of the Claimant’s disability at the relevant times and the Respondent had not shown that the dismissal was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

The Employment Tribunal also held that the Claimant’s dismissal was indirectly discriminatory and unfair, as the dismissal was outside of the range of reasonable as the dismissal was discriminatory, it failed to consider reasonable alternatives to dismissal, and the dismissal was pre-judged.

Our lawyers’ views on the case

Stephen Norton, a lawyer at Redmans, commented on the case as follows: “An interesting aspect of this case concerns the wider interpretation given to when the employer should have been aware of the employee’s disability. Although the employer had not been formally notified of his disability before 2016, they were given earlier clues based on his symptoms of anxiety and depression which had lasted more than 12 months – the Employment Tribunal therefore held that the Respondent reasonably had knowledge as of the earlier dates, when they had been given the ‘clues’ of the Claimant’s condition.”

The decision of the Employment Tribunal in Mr I Wells v The Governing Body of Great Yarmouth High School (ET/3401100/2015) can be found here.

About

Redmans Employment Team deal with employment matters for both employers and employees, including drafting employment contracts and policies, advising employers and employees on compromise agreements, handling day-to-day HR issues, advising on restructures, and handling Employment Tribunal cases for both employers and employees Call 020 3397 3603 to speak to one of the members of our employment team or email us on enquiries@redmans.co.uk. Redmans have offices in Richmond, Chiswick, Hammersmith, Fulham, Kingston, Wimbledon, Ealing, Kings Cross and Marylebone (meetings strictly by appointment only).

Want to talk to an expert employment law solicitor?

You'll receive a callback from a specialist within an hour

Our awards

Request a callback

    Your first name (required)

    Your last name (required)

    Your email (required)

    Your telephone number (required)

    Brief details of your enquiry

    Testimonials

    4.80 Average

    371 Reviews

    Jonathan L

    The service I received was friendly and professional. I appreciated the timely communications and Mel was always available for any questions I had. I'd definitely recommend Redmans and will use them in a heartbeat should the situation arise again.

    Posted 6 days ago

    Glyn B

    Provided a great service, covered all my requirements

    Posted 1 week ago

    Fidel A

    Redmans Solicitors recently helped me navigate a recent employment termination settlement agreement. Chris Hadrill is very professional and you will be in good hands with him. I score Redmans 4 out of 5 because things had to move fast and felt the team member assigned to my case wasn't very responsive at times. Having said that, I was very happy with the outcome and have no hesitation in recommending their services.

    Posted 1 week ago

    Nigel A

    Chris Hadrill is hugely impressive - the right blend of assured calm and savvy professionalism. I've already recommended him to friends and family.

    Posted 1 week ago

    Matt O

    I was hugely impressed with the ease of being able to work with Redmans Solicitors and their professional approach. Mel was really clear around the process, and costings required and I felt comfortable throughout. I would certainly recommend.

    Posted 1 week ago

    Bryan G

    Great response, and also happy to assist

    Posted 1 week ago

    David L

    I was made a settlement offer by my employer to terminate my emplyment early. Redmans helped me understand the offer, and ensured that it was fair for someone in my position. They made a very stressful situation much easier. Excellent service.

    Posted 1 week ago

    Anonymous

    I can highly recommend Redmans. The service was professional and prompt and I would not hesitate to use them again. Thanks

    Posted 2 weeks ago

    Anonymous

    Overall I am satisfied with the performance from Redmans. The reason I have given 4 stars is that I had quite a lot difficulty in contacting the representative which was initially nominated for me. However, when I contacted Chris instead, he was excellent over the phone and secured a great outcome in short order. I would recommend Redmans Solicitors.

    Posted 2 weeks ago

    Anonymous

    Chris and Redmans were a great help. Effective and efficient, quick response from my first enquiry and then straightforward and attentive throughout with ultimately a positive outcome. I will use them again and recommend them.

    Posted 3 weeks ago

    Marie P

    Great service, quick responses, good advice and all in a no nonsense, no jargon manner. Would definitely recommend.

    Posted 3 weeks ago

    Anonymous

    Rana was amazingly thorough and professional!

    Posted 3 weeks ago

    Anonymous

    I am extremely happy with the legal advice I was provided with. My case was resolved to the best of my expectations. Thank you very much for your professional help.

    Posted 3 weeks ago

    Shahzad R

    Chris and his team were excellent. They provided sound advice and consultation that resulted in more cash than was offered. Would definitely recommend.

    Posted 3 weeks ago

    Sanjay B

    I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mel Chin, for all her support during my settlement process. Where she provided a professional service and was understanding. I would confidently recommend Redmans Solicitors to my friends and family. Thank you and wishing you all a Merry Christmas.

    Posted 1 month ago

    Paul O

    Excellent response time and communication during my dealings with Redmans

    Posted 1 month ago

    Gil T

    I don’t normally write reviews, but thought it was time on this occasion. Just wanted to say that I highly recommend Redmans - especially Rana Tandon, who helped me navigate around my employment contract. Rana was meticulous and thorough and all over my needs. Would I use Redmans again ? ..absolutely

    Posted 1 month ago

    Stephanie D

    Very thorough and professional service. I was very nervous about my employment case, as I had never dealt with anything like it before. However, the solicitors who handled my case made sure I understood everything. I was never kept in the dark and Redmans kept me constantly informed about what was going on with my case. I would definitely recommend Redmans Solicitors

    Posted 1 month ago

    Richard S

    Chris and Sacha were great throughout the entire process. Chris was very helpful once the initial discussions with my company began and before we agreed there was a case. Sacha was very responsive, patient and helpful throughout ensuring I felt I had the right information to make the best decision on next steps. A close friend and wife have both used Redmans in the past few years for unfair dismissals and the service continues to be first-class and I would strongly recommend them again. They definitely help reduce the anxiety that comes with uncertainty around new processes and situations. Thank you!

    Posted 1 month ago

    Jianya

    Very nice and patient went through the whole document with me.

    Posted 1 month ago

    Susan L

    Very helpful and led me through the redundancy process.

    Posted 1 month ago