The EAT's decision in First Leeds v Haigh reminds employers dealing with employees on long-term sick leave of the importance of obtaining appropriate medical advice on all relevant issues before dismissing the employee. This may include advice on whether the employee qualifies for ill-health retirement.

Mr Haigh worked as a bus driver for First Leeds for nearly 30 years. In 2005 he suffered two suspected strokes and went on long-term sick leave. First Leeds dismissed him. He appealed, but this was dismissed despite no further medical information being available. At a final appeal in February 2006, the occupational health adviser's view was that Mr Haigh's condition was not permanent but he indicated that he would write to Mr Haigh's specialist for advice. First Leeds did not wait for this specialist advice. Instead Mr Haigh was given the option of being dismissed or remaining an employee until his retirement (receiving sick pay until May 2006) but with no application for an ill-health pension. Mr Haigh declined the offer and his dismissal was confirmed.

Both the tribunal and the EAT found the dismissal to have been unfair. First Leeds was criticised for its insufficient consideration of the medical evidence at each stage of its procedure and, in particular, its failure to consider properly whether Mr Haigh's medical condition was permanent and would therefore entitle him to take ill-health retirement under First Leeds' pension scheme. The tribunal identified that the most important factor leading it to conclude that the dismissal was unfair was the apparent wish of the employer to avoid the cost of providing an ill-health retirement pension.

The EAT highlighted the general rule that when an employee is on long-term sick leave, prior to any dismissal, an employer is expected to consult with the employee; to ascertain by means of appropriate medical advice the nature and prognosis of the medical condition and to consider alternative employment. It then decided that an employer who provides an enhanced pension on retirement through ill health is under a further obligation to take reasonable steps to ascertain whether the employee is entitled to the benefit of ill-health retirement.

  • Appropriate medical advice should be obtained at each stage of an absent management procedure.
  • If an employer provides an ill-health pension it must consider whether an employee qualifies for that pension before dismissal. An employer cannot carelessly (or deliberately) prevent an employee from claiming an ill health pension.

First West Yorkshire Limited t/a First Leeds v Haigh UKEAT/0246/07