Anxiety, disability, and equality

Suppose you are too anxious to attend court as a witness. Might that be a disability within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010 (the Act)?

This question was recently considered by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in London.


The claimant worked as a social worker for a local authority. She was left traumatised following a court appearance and was off for an extended period due to work-related stress. Her GP subsequently advised that the claimant was likely to recover fully, provided she was not required to make court appearances. The claimant was fit to return subject to this adjustment. 

The respondent employer refused to remove the requirement for the claimant to attend court and started a formal capability process. It did not consider it reasonable to remove court work from her role, and so terminated the claimant’s employment.  

The claimant brought claims for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination. The employment tribunal determined that the claimant was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. She appealed to the EAT. 


The EAT held that the tribunal had failed to consider the implications of its own findings: the claimant continued to be signed off work so long as the possibility of having to attend court remained. The effect of the mental impairment was that she remained unfit to work at all due to intense anxiety at potentially having to attend court again. The tribunal should, therefore, have concluded that the impairment substantially affected her ability to carry out her normal day-to-day activities. 


As an employer, you should seek medical input and legal advice when faced with an employee who may be disabled under the Act. 

An employee’s GP can provide information about their condition, how it affects them day-to-day, and how long it might last. An occupational health consultant can advise on whether they are likely to be considered ‘disabled’ with additional practical advice. 

If a claim arises, it will be for the tribunal judge to decide on the question of disability. Legal advice can help you interpret the available information, taking into account the Act and related case law.  

If there is a possibility that your employee may be disabled under the Act, it is sensible to exercise caution and consider their rights.   

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