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February 28, 2017

Does Long-Term Stress Amount to a Disability?

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in Herry v Dudley Metropolitan Council UKEAT/0100/16/LA considered whether an employee’s long-term stress made him disabled for the purposes of U.K. disability discrimination law.

Mr Herry alleged that his work-related stress was a disability for the purposes of U.K. disability discrimination law and brought disability discrimination proceedings against his employer, Dudley Metropolitan Council. Although it accepted that Mr Herry suffered from stress, the EAT found that it did not amount to a disability for the purposes of U.K. disability discrimination law because he had not shown that it had a substantial adverse effect on his ability to carry out day-to-day activities. The EAT agreed with the Employment Tribunal’s finding at first instance that Mr Herry’s stress was a reaction to life events, as opposed to a mental impairment (which could amount to disability).

It is important to note that Mr Herry’s case was considerably weakened by the fact that the EAT found that there was a "dearth of information" as to the nature of Mr Herry's "work related stress". In particular, Mr Herry had mainly relied on notes from his general practitioner which made generic references to “stress” and “work related stress” to support his allegation that his stress amounted to a disability. Given that disability discrimination claims based on stress at work are relatively common, the EAT highlighted that the focus in such cases will be on whether the employee’s condition has a substantial and long-term effect on their ability to carry out day-to-day activities and the onus will be on the employee to show this.

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