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Work related stress not enough to show disability


The Claimant, a dyslexic man, brought proceedings for disability discrimination against his employers in 2012 and again in 2014. He asserted that he was disabled because he was dyslexic and suffering from stress.

The Employment Tribunal (“the Tribunal”) dismissed the claims, saying the Claimant was unreasonable in pursuing a claim making over 90 allegations of discrimination, despite advice from his union and two separate legal advice centres that he would not succeed.

At Tribunal, it was decided that the Claimant’s stress was primarily a result of what he believed to be unfair treatment of him by his employers, and that he had not shown that any of the impairments he was relying upon in bringing the proceedings made him a disabled person under the Equality Act 2010 (“the Act”).

The proceedings were dismissed and the Claimant was also ordered to pay all of the Respondents’ costs totalling over £110,000. This was despite him being unfit for work and being reliant on benefits.

The Claimant later appealed against this decision.

The Law

Under s. 6(1) of the Equality Act 2010, a person has a disability if –

  • (a) they have a physical or mental impairment; and
  • (b) the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on that person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

The Decision

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) held that the Tribunal was right to reject the Claimant’s claim that he had a disability. It stated that there was a lack of information in the Claimant’s medical documents as to the nature of his stress, and the Claimant unreasonably refused to accept that there were non-discriminatory explanations for the acts of his employer.

However, the EAT did allow the Claimant’s appeal against the costs order, stating that the Tribunal had been incorrect in their decision to order an amount that the Claimant would likely never be able to pay off given his circumstances at the time, despite his unreasonable actions.


This case shows that a person taking a long period of time away from work does not necessarily lead an Employment Tribunal to conclude that this in itself is evidence of them suffering from a mental impairment.

A claimant will need to show more than stress caused by life events or perceived unfair treatment at work, and must prove that their impairment satisfies the definition of ‘disability’ under the Act in order to be protected by it. Medical certificates on their own using wording such as ‘stress’ and ‘anxiety’ are not always enough to prove that a person is or should be protected by the Act.

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