The importance of determining the long-term effect when it comes to disability
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has held in Morris v Lauren Richards Ltd that the tribunal had wrongly focused on the likely impact of termination of employment on the claimant's anxiety rather than considering whether the effect of the anxiety was likely to last for at least 12 months.
The claimant suffered from anxiety which had a substantial adverse effect on her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Her anxiety only started when she experienced a loss of confidence and felt overwhelmed at work, and, at the relevant time, she had experienced anxiety for only three and a half months. The tribunal concluded that, following the termination of her employment, her anxiety was unlikely to persist given that it centred on workplace issues and so she was not disabled.
The EAT held that the tribunal had incorrectly placed material weight on the fact the workplace was causing her anxiety and that it was unlikely to persist after termination of her employment. The tribunal should have focused on whether the effect of her anxiety could well have continued for another eight and a half months, notwithstanding the termination of her employment and lack of medical evidence. The EAT also noted that the threshold for the likelihood of an impairment's effect persisting for 12 months or more is low and amounts to whether something "could well happen". The question of long-term effect was remitted to the tribunal for reconsideration.
Take note: The definition of disability in the Equality Act 2010 states that the physical or mental impairment suffered by the individual must have a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the individual's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. An effect will be long-term if, at the time of the discriminatory act, it has lasted at least 12 months, or is likely to last that long. This question will sometimes be difficult to determine, and medical evidence will usually be necessary. It's clear from the decision in Morris though that where anxiety centres on workplace issues it should not automatically be assumed that when employment terminates the anxiety will fall away.