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Stroke Victim’s Employment Contract Frustrated

In a ruling which clarifies the interplay between disability discrimination rules and the doctrine of frustration, the Employment Appeal Tribunal has ruled that where a worker was laid low by a serious stroke, rendering him incapable of carrying out the functions of his job, his employer was entitled to treat his contract as at an end.

The worker’s role as a construction site manager had required a high level of mobility and decision-making ability. His stroke had greatly affected his ability to get about and his dexterity, co-ordination, memory and concentration were also substantially impaired. Although his employer had initially treated him well, granting him sick pay above his contractual entitlement, he was eventually sent his P45.

The worker claimed unfair dismissal, breach of contract and disability discrimination. However, in the light of medical evidence that he was highly unlikely ever to regain a full capability to perform his former roles, an employment tribunal ruled that his employer had been entitled to treat his contract as frustrated.

Ruling on the worker’s challenge to that decision, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) found that there had been no error of law in the tribunal’s conclusion that the employer had not breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments and had been entitled to treat the purpose of the contract as unachievable.

The tribunal had also found that the contract’s termination was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. However, in allowing the worker’s appeal in part, the EAT noted that the tribunal had not dealt with his arguments that he had been treated less favourably within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010, in that the employer had failed to carry out any form of procedure, however rudimentary, to test his capabilities prior to dismissing him. That issue was remitted to the tribunal for fresh consideration.