Over the last two years, we've seen a dramatic rise in the number of disability discrimination claims made by workers at employee tribunals.
According to the Ministry of Justice, there were 6,550 disability discrimination claims in 2018, up more than 37% on the year before.
These claims can be hugely expensive for employers to deal with, both in terms of legal costs and staff time in dealing with them.
What Is Driving The Rise?
The rise in disability discrimination claims could relate to the increase in the number of people facing disciplinary or dismissal action for stress-related absences.
Workers in highly stressful environments, particularly the financial services industry, often fail to show up to work on account of their mental wellbeing, and then face disciplinary action by the company.
If the employee can show that their mental health condition amounts to a disability under the Equality Act 2010, they could potentially have very valuable claims for discrimination which, could result in the payment of potentially unlimited damages in they win at Tribunal.
Stress and depression may also provide employees with a defence against disciplinary action for misconduct, for instance if they claim that their mental health condition has caused them to make mistakes at work, which could explain why the number of claims is on the rise.
There’s also a second factor at work: the Ministry of Justice abolished fees for tribunals in 2017.
The abolition led to a huge increase in the number of claims by employees, not just for disability discrimination, but also for other actions by companies, such as unlawful pay deductions and breaches of contract.
Employees can now bring claims without financial risk, especially as even if they lose, they will rarely be ordered to pay the employer’s costs.
Whatever the principal cause of the rise in claims, it does indicate that many workers are not happy in their roles and are undergoing high levels of stress, especially in the financial sector.
The Health and Safety Executive concluded that the glut in tribunals could be the inevitable result of restructuring programmes, regulatory burdens, and redundancies across the finance industry, and other affected sectors of the economy.