Victoria Notman discusses the recent case of Sullivan v Bury Street Capital Ltd involving paranoid delusions and the definition of a disability under the Equality Act 2010.
Sullivan v Bury Street Capital Ltd  involved a claim for disability discrimination.
What was it about?
Mr Sullivan worked as a senior sales executive at Bury Street Capital Ltd since 2008. Throughout his employment, there were various concerns about attendance and timekeeping, and in 2013 he developed paranoid tendencies and believed that he was being followed and stalked by a Russian gang. These tendencies seemed to improve towards the end of 2013.
Performance meetings were held between 2014 and 2017. He was subsequently dismissed in 2017 as a result of unauthorised absences, poor timekeeping and record-keeping issues. He brought a claim for disability discrimination.
The main question for the ET was whether the ‘paranoid delusions’ he was suffering from under the circumstances amounted to a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010.
The Employment Tribunal’s view
The ET considered the definition of disability under the Equality Act:
“A person has a disability if:
- they have a physical or mental impairment, and
- the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”.
It concluded that although the delusions that Mr Sullivan was suffering from would amount to a physical or mental impairment, they were not long-term as there was no evidence to suggest that it continued beyond September 2013, and therefore did not amount to the definition of a ‘disability’ required to be able to pursue a claim in the ET. In coming to this conclusion, the ET outlined that ‘long-term’ means a disability that has lasted or is likely to last 12 months or more.
It held that in the event the delusions were ongoing, as Mr Sullivan was suggesting, the effects no longer impacted his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Furthermore, the employer was not deemed to have any knowledge of the disability at the relevant time as this was only based on the Chief Executive’s observations of Mr Sullivan’s behaviour.
What did the EAT think?
The EAT agreed with the outcome reached by the ET. It stated that the ET correctly found that Mr Sullivan’s delusional beliefs were not long-term nor did they impact his ability to perform day-to-day tasks.
What are the lessons for employers
Knowledge of the definition of disability outlined above under the Equality Act 2010 is key for employers to be able to identify what amounts to a disability so appropriate reasonable adjustments can be made to avoid any potential discrimination claims.
Central to this is communication with staff to identify potential disabilities that have not been formally diagnosed, and regular referrals to occupational health to satisfy employers duty of care towards staff.