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Employment Law Case Update: Mental Health

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Mental health is an incredibly important subject amongst our employees and it is vital that employers manage this with sensitivity, understanding and ensuring managers are able to spot the signs.  Our Employment Law team here review the case of Mrs E Aylott v BPP University highlighting the importance of taking employees seriously when they raise issues regarding workload and poor mental health.

Mrs Aylott, a lecturer with BPP University from 2009 until her resignation in April 2019, had suffered from bouts of depression since 1990, which she disclosed to the University in 2013. In 2016, she again experienced depression and stress relating to a “busy work life” and was diagnosed with anxiety and depression shortly after.

In April 2018, Mrs Aylott was seconded into a new role, reporting to Mr Donnarumma. Around the same time she told a colleague, Ms Wagner, that she was experiencing anxiety. Ms Wagner told Mr Donnarumma that Mrs Aylott was “mad as a box of frogs but a good worker” which Mr Donnarumma repeated to Mrs Aylott.

The Employment Tribunal (ET) found that in the summer of 2018 Mrs Aylott worked an average of 55 – 60 hours a week. She also cancelled planned holiday in order to help complete work objectives. She informed Mr Donnarumma that she was “drinking alcohol to help her cope with work pressure.” In early October, she took a few days off as sick leave and told Mr Donnarumma that her department was understaffed and that it had affected her health. She raised concerns with Mr Donnarumma and Ms Wagner that she felt unable to say “no” at work. Despite her GP signing her off as fit for only 2-4 hours of work per day, she continued to work into the evenings and on the weekends.

In late October 2018, Steven Shaw, an HR manager, told Mrs Aylott that “someone her age and experience should be able to prioritise and manage their workload”.  In November 2018, Mrs Aylott requested a referral to Occupational Health but this was not done. Instead, the HR Manager proposed a settlement agreement and re-engagement as a contractor. The proposal caused Mrs Aylott further anxiety at the thought of losing her job.

In January 2019, Mrs Aylott raised a grievance alleging a failure to make reasonable adjustments and was referred to OH  in February 2019. The OH Advisor concluded that Mrs Aylott did have a depressive illness that amounted to a disability.  In April 2019, Mrs Aylott resigned and filed a discrimination claim. In May 2019 she submitted a second claim of constructive unfair dismissal.

The ET found that the University had knowledge of Mrs Aylott’s depression and anxiety from April 2018. However, it found that she was not subject to less favourable treatment because of her disability and therefore her discrimination claim against the University failed. The ET found that the University had failed to make reasonable adjustments including reducing Mrs Aylott’s workload, and providing her with additional support. It had failed to heed Mrs Aylott’s concerns that she was not coping with the stress from her job and was drinking too much. The University also failed to refer Mrs Aylott to Occupational Health even after it was clear that her mental health was deteriorating.

The University’s grievance investigation was “superficial” and inadequate.  The grievance appeal did not address all of Mrs Aylott’s arguments such as the “mad as a box of frogs” comment. The ET ruled that this last failure amounted to the “last straw,” causing Mrs Aylott to resign.

The ET ruled that the University had breached its implied term of trust and confidence and that Mrs Aylott had been constructively and unfairly dismissed.

In this case, the employer failed to comply with its legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for an employee who was suffering a mental disability. Employers must be responsive to an employee’s disability, especially when employee makes it clear that there is a problem. Requests for an Occupational Health referral should never be ignored and employers should work with employees to devise reasonable adjustments that work for both parties.

If you have any questions regarding this article, you can call our Employment team today on 023 8071 7717 or email employment@warnergoodman.co.uk.

This was previously part of our weekly Employment Law Newsletter. If you would like to subscribe, please email us at events@warnergoodman.co.uk or just fill in our subscription form.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.