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Employment Law Case Update: Unfair Dismissal and Known Disabilities
- AuthorEmployment Team
The case of Kuppala v HBOS illustrates the importance of factoring in a known disability when considering issues of misconduct. Employers should make sure to fully investigate how a known disability could have impacted the misconduct and whether dismissal is a fair decision.
Mr Kuppala, who was employed by HBOS at a Halifax branch in Oxford Circus, has type-2 diabetes. Because of the severity of the diabetes, he is considered disabled under the Equality Act 2010.
Mr Kuppala was diagnosed with the condition in 2017, but did not tell HBOS right away as he was worried it would affect his chances of remaining in his role after a restructure. As the bank was often busy, he frequently did not have time to take breaks to keep his diabetes under control. When it was not managed, he felt shaky, weak, hungry, lethargic and confused, which affected his ability to concentrate at work.
In April 2018, he was told he had not been given a role in the company’s restructure.
A month later, a customer was unintentionally locked in the bank after Mr Kuppala had to leave work quickly for an emergency appointment. Although other staff were in the branch, he did not make them aware that a customer was still in a room. An investigation into the incident found further CCTV footage showing that Mr Kuppala had previously left the keys unattended and had let a customer into the branch after closing time while leaving the keys in the door. He had also failed to check all the rooms to ensure no customers or packages were inside.
A disciplinary process found he had breached security policies for closing the branch and Mr Kuppala was dismissed for gross misconduct following a disciplinary hearing in June 2018.
The company said that it could not see how stress caused by busy footfall would affect security protocols that were completed several times a week.
He unsuccessfully appealed against the decision, claiming that he had been harshly treated compared to others in the same circumstances and that the hearing manager had failed to take into account how stress affected his health.
The Employment Tribunal found that HBOS’s decision to dismiss Mr Kuppala had been unfair, especially as it had allowed him to continue to work in a position of responsibility while the investigation took place, showing that it did not consider his actions serious. He had made those conducting the investigation aware of his diabetes and how it affected his work, so they should have taken this into consideration.
It was found that the bank did not show that less discriminatory measures, for example a final written warning with training and a referral to Occupational Health who would help manage his diabetes properly, would have been insufficient to achieve its legitimate aim.
Employers must therefore be prepared to check whether an underlying disability or illness is a contributing factor to the behaviour of an employee and make further enquiries. This can be done effectively by referring the employee to Occupational Health. Furthermore, if there are concerns regarding an employee’s work, this case suggests leaving them in a position of responsibility can work against the employer in their decision to dismiss.
A full and proper investigation is vitally important to make sure that any disciplinary actions an employer takes are legal and fair. If you need advice on how to conduct an investigation into potential employee misconduct, you can call our Employment team today on 023 8071 7717 or email email@example.com.
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.