In Charlesworth v Dransfields Engineering Services Ltd the EAT held that the Claimant’s absence from work due to a disability was not an operative cause of his dismissal by reason of redundancy. His absence had merely allowed the Respondent to identify its ability to manage without him. As a result, the EAT rejected the Claimant’s claim of discrimination arising from disability.
In this case, the Respondent was not achieving the profitability that management desired and was on the lookout to make cost savings from 2012 onwards. In October 2014, the Claimant went into hospital for an operation for renal cancer and was absent from work for two months. During his absence, the Respondent identified the opportunity to save around £40,000 by getting rid of his position as Manager of the Respondent’s Rotherham branch and absorbing his responsibilities into other roles. The Claimant was notified of his potential redundancy in March 2015, and engaged in consultation with the Respondent. However, no suitable alternative vacancy could be identified. The Claimant brought claims against the Respondent for unfair dismissal, direct disability discrimination and discrimination because of something arising in consequence of disability.
The Employment Tribunal rejected the claims. With regards to discrimination because of something arising in consequence of disability pursuant to section 15 of the Equality Act 2010, it noted that there was some link between the Claimant’s absence and his dismissal because his absence gave the Respondent an opportunity to identify that it could manage without him. However, the Tribunal considered that this was not the same as saying that the Claimant was dismissed because of his absence. In its view, the Claimant’s absence was not an effective or operative cause of his dismissal. The Claimant appealed.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) dismissed the Claimant’s appeal finding that under section 15 there must be something arising in consequence of the disability and the unfavourable treatment must be ‘because of’ that ‘something’. Whilst the EAT felt that the words "arising in consequence of" may give some scope for a wider causal connection than the words "because of", it rejected the Claimant’s argument that something less than an operative cause or influence is sufficient to satisfy the causation test. A significant influence is required rather than a mere influence. On that basis, the Employment Tribunal was correct in concluding that the Claimant’s absence was merely how the Respondent realised that it was able to manage without the Claimant; it was not the cause of his dismissal.
Graham Irons comments: “This case deals with a familiar scenario of an employer finding that it can make do without an employee after a period of absence. A critical finding here was that the employer had already been ‘on the lookout’ for ways to make costs savings. Had this not been the case, the outcome may well have been different.”
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