- Knightley v Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust: an employer’s failure to make reasonable adjustments does not itself make the dismissal unfair
Knightley v Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust: an employer’s failure to make reasonable adjustments does not itself make the dismissal unfair
Knightley v Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust: an employer’s failure to make reasonable adjustments does not itself make the dismissal unfair28th June 2022 - Published by Kuits Employment Team
Facts: The claimant in this case, Ms Knightley, was a Lead Midwife for Mental Health, a job that required managing vulnerable patients, high-risk pregnancies and other complex cases. Ms Knightley suffered with stress, anxiety and depression which her employer accepted amounted to a disability under the law. Over the years various adjustments were made to assist her, such as allowing her to work flexibly, however her attendance was significantly affected by her condition.
Her absences affected the performance of the Trust and Ms Knightley was therefore subject to a capability procedure in April 2018, as a result of which she was dismissed. During the capability hearing, Ms Knightly had told her employer that she was unfit to work indefinitely, that she was not able to return to work and that no adjustments would help and finally that she wanted to apply for ill-health retirement. Ms Knightley was given 10 days to appeal the decision, however she was late in doing so and requested a two-week extension to lodge her appeal, which her employer declined.
Ms Knightley brought a number of claims against her employer, including unfair dismissal, discrimination arising from disability and a failure to make reasonable adjustments.
In the first instance, the Employment Tribunal (ET) found that the employer had failed to make a reasonable adjustment, therefore breaching discrimination legislation, by not allowing Ms Knightley an extension of time to lodge an appeal against her dismissal. However, her claims for unfair dismissal and discrimination arising out of her disability failed. Ms Knightley appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal on 3 grounds. First, she argued that the Tribunal’s finding that the employer failed to make a reasonable adjustment should have led to her other 2 claims succeeding. Second, that the Tribunal had failed to justify how her dismissal could have been fair in light of them finding that the employer had failed to make a reasonable adjustment. Lastly, that the Tribunal was wrong to rely on its finding that Ms Knightley’s appeal would have been unsuccessful in any event.
Decision: The EAT dismissed Ms Knightley’s appeal, holding that Ms Knightley was wrong to believe that a legal judgment relating to one claim can form part of the basis for the finding of another claim. Whilst the facts of the case could be relevant to all three claims that she brought against her employer, and may be relevant to whether she was unfairly dismissed or discriminated against, the legal finding itself is not relevant. The EAT held that the three claims should be dealt with separately.
The EAT agreed with the ET that it would have been reasonable to allow her an extension to appeal the capability procedure outcome given her disability. Despite this, they found that the procedure as a whole was fair and that she was not unfairly dismissed. The EAT held that the tribunal had not based its decision that the dismissal was fair on its view that the appeal would not have been successful in any event.
Comment: This case reminds employers of the importance of carrying out a full and fair procedure in relation to dismissing an employee and emphasises the additional care that should be taken when the potential grounds for dismissal relate to ill-health or disability, as there are greater risks involved with the dismissal. Reasonable adjustments should be made including extension of deadline unless any good reasons can be advanced for not doing so. Given the risks involved and the high stakes, legal advice should be taken.
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