Fair dismissal following employer induced stress

01.01.07

Fair dismissal following employer induced stress

Mrs McAdie, a Customer Services Officer, had worked for the Royal Bank of Scotland for 20 years when the Bank moved her to a different branch. Mrs McAdie raised a grievance about the transfer and the way in which it was handled. This was not dealt with properly: there were a number of delays; inaccuracies in meeting notes; some of the responses did not address all the issues raised; and Mrs McAdie felt she had been bullied and intimidated during discussions with a manager. The grievance was, however, rejected.

After invoking the second stage of the grievance procedure, Mrs McAdie indicated that the only suitable resolution was for her to leave the Bank with compensation. The Bank was not prepared to offer her this under the grievance procedure and she was offered a return to a different role in a location of her choice.

The Bank's long-term sickness procedure was then activated. A report from the Bank's occupational health doctor stated that further medical treatment was unlikely to resolve the situation and in the absence of a successful redeployment, Mrs McAdie was likely to remain absent for the foreseeable future. Mrs McAdie again asked to leave the Bank with compensation. She was dismissed on grounds of ill health after 15 months' absence. The appropriate disciplinary / capability procedure was followed in terms of her dismissal.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the EAT's finding that Mrs McAdie's dismissal was fair. An employer can fairly dismiss an employee for ill-health capability despite the fact that the employee's stress-related illness could have been attributed to the conduct of the employer. However, the cause of the employee's capability is a relevant factor for the tribunal to consider when determining whether or not the dismissal is fair. The case establishes the following principles:-

  • The fact that the employer has caused the absence does not preclude it from fairly dismissing the employee
  • The real question is whether the employer acted reasonably in all the circumstances (including the fact that the employer was responsible for the original absence)
  • Where the employer is responsible for an employee's sickness absence it should normally be expected to put up with a longer period of absence that would otherwise be reasonable, or to "go the extra mile" in finding alternative employment for the employee

Be aware

The decision provides some relief for employers faced with unfair dismissal claims where the employer is or may be responsible for the employee's absence. However, when handling cases where work-related stress is alleged, employers should be aware that they may be required to go to additional lengths in an effort to allow the employee to remain in employment.

McAdie v Royal Bank of Scotland 2007 EWCA Civ 806