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An employment tribunal has held in a preliminary hearing in Philipps v Aneurin Bevan University Local Health Board that the claimant was a disabled person within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010 (EqA 2010). The claimant argued that her work-related stress amounted to a disability.

The time period the judge was looking at spanned from February 2021 to 9 November 2022, the date on which the claimant submitted her ET1. This was the period of time during which the claimant alleged that the discrimination occurred.

The judge, as a first question, asked whether the claimant suffered from work-related stress. The judge found that there was clear reference to that condition throughout the claimant's medical records from February 2021 until late 2022. There were also entries within her medical records revealing that on several occasions throughout that period Fit Notes had been issued by the doctor indicating that the claimant was unfit for work as a result of work-related stress.

The judge considered the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) decision of J v DLA Piper which drew a distinction between mental illness e.g. clinical depression, and a reaction to adverse life events such as problems at work which "can on occasion not amount to a mental condition".

The judge then held that where there is a dispute about impairments it will be necessary to look at whether the ability to carry out normal day to day activities is adversely affected on a long-term basis.

On the facts the judge found that the effects of work-related stress on the claimant's ability to carry out day to day activities were substantial adverse effects and that there had been issues from early 2021 to November 2022. The claimant gave evidence that she had been unable at times to leave the house or socialise with others, and indicated that on numerous occasions her sleep had been affected, as had her ability to concentrate. 

The judge then referred back to Piper on the distinction to be made between mental illness and non-mental illness. In Piper the EAT recommended that if a tribunal starts by considering the adverse effect issue "and finds that the Claimant's ability to carry out normal day to day activities has been substantially impaired by symptoms characteristic of depression for 12 months or more it would in most cases be likely to conclude that he or she was indeed suffering clinical depression rather than simply a reaction to adverse circumstances". 

The judge concluded that there was no requirement for there to be a formal diagnosis of a mental illness in order for the Tribunal to be satisfied that there is a mental impairment causing a substantial adverse effect on a claimant's ability to do day to day activities. On the basis that the claimant suffered these effects on her abilities for a prolonged period of time (more than 12 months) the judge thought that the issue of the impairment needed to be seen in that context and, even though there was no formal diagnosis of any medical condition, the claimant's work-related stress amounted to a disability.

Take note: Following the decision in Philipps employees may be more likely to allege that their work-related stress is a disability without any formal diagnosis of mental illness. However, the onus will still be on them to show that it has/had a substantial adverse effect on their ability to do day to day activities and that this effect is/was long-term.