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Refusal to work

The Court of Appeal in the case of Rochford v WNS Global has held that it was not unfair to dismiss an employee when he refused to work following a discriminatory demotion.

Background

The Claimant was employed as a Senior Vice President at WNS Global (“the Company”). After a long period of absence due to back problems and spinal surgery he returned to work. However, on his return, the Company did not allow the Claimant to resume his full role and allocated him lesser duties (while maintaining full pay). There was no indication given by the Company as to when he would be allowed to return to his role of Senior Vice President.

The Claimant argued that he had effectively been demoted and this amounted to discriminatory treatment. As such, he refused to carry out any work. Following warnings and a disciplinary process, the Claimant was summarily dismissed for misconduct on grounds of insubordination.

The Claimant brought claims for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination.

Decision

The Employment Tribunal, Employment Appeal Tribunal and Court of Appeal agreed that although the treatment by the Company in allocating lesser duties amounted to discrimination arising from disability, it did not entitle the Claimant to refuse to carry out any work. Therefore the dismissal for insubordination was substantively (although not procedurally) fair.

Comment

It is important to note that the Court of Appeal commented that an employee’s refusal to work will be a matter of fact and degree. An employee may, in some circumstances, be justified in refusing to work.

If an employer is considering making reasonable adjustments for a disabled employee, these should be discussed openly and agreed with the employee before implementation.

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