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Teacher dismissed after long illness wins discrimination claim

A teacher who was dismissed after suffering a long illness following an attack by a pupil has won her discrimination claim.

The teacher, who was a head of department, had suffered a significant stress reaction after being assaulted by a pupil in March 2011. She tried unsuccessfully to return to work in December 2011 so the school's occupational health team sought information from her concerning her prognosis.

That information was not always forthcoming and she was dismissed in January 2013. She lodged an internal appeal, which was heard in April 2013. At the hearing, she produced a "fit for work" note and other medical evidence.

However, the panel upheld the dismissal on the basis that the medical evidence was inconsistent, the prognosis not good, her return uncertain, and the note an attempt to return before her condition had been fully treated.

The employment tribunal found that the school's aims in dismissing the teacher were legitimate, but that dismissal was disproportionate for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010.

It found that the school had adduced no satisfactory evidence about the adverse impact of the teacher's continuing absence, and should reasonably have waited "a little longer" to see if she would be able to return.

It concluded that the dismissal was unfair. The school appealed successfully, with the Employment Appeal Tribunal ruling that the dismissal was proportionate, fair and not discriminatory.

The teacher took the case to the Court of Appeal, which has ruled in her favour. It held that there had been no error of law by the employment tribunal.

The case was borderline because of the length of the teacher's absence and the unsatisfactory nature of the evidence about her prognosis, but the essential point was that, by the time of her internal appeal, there was evidence that she was fit to return.

The tribunal had therefore been entitled to hold that it was disproportionate and unreasonable of the school to disregard that evidence without at least a further assessment by its own occupational health advisers.

To find out more about JPP's employment law services please visit employment law

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