Law firm fails to address health needs

Law firm fails to address health needs occupational health news

Law firm failed to address health needs 

A Director at law firm Duncan Lewis has been found to have been unfairly dismissed, after the firm failed to address the health needs arising from his disability.

The Claimant, Mr. Orogbu, was fatigued during 2020 and his performance standards had dropped. He was subject to performance targets, which he had difficulty meeting. Before 2020, he had billed at least 85% of his target hours, however, by 2020 his billing had dropped to 57% of his target.

The firm then chose to focus on performance concerns and absent management procedures as a reason for dismissal, whilst failing to consider reasonable adjustments, as a recent Employment Tribunal has found.

Judge Emily Gordon Walker confirmed that Mr. Orogbu, who joined the firm in 2018 as a Housing Department Director, had failed to meet his billing target. She found that his symptoms had worsened after the March 2020 lockdown, persisting until his dismissal from the firm in November 2020.

He had not attended work regularly, met performance targets, nor had he followed the firm’s absence reporting procedures, which were the reasons given for his dismissal.

Fatigue can be a disability 

The Judge determined that he became disabled in September 2020 due to extreme fatigue. She also found that the firm had knowledge of Mr. Orogbu’s disability from October 2020, when his fatigue had been declared.

The impairment (his fatigue) had a substantial adverse effect on his ability to carry out day-to-day activities, which therefore met the threshold of being defined as a disability.

Acknowledging Mr. Orogbu’s struggle to function due to low energy levels, the judge accepted that only after dismissal could he gather medical evidence. Mr. Orogbu had admitted to not fulfilling his employment role on 70 days, between April and October 2020, nor followed the absence reporting procedures, citing his inability to report due to his health issues.

No medical advice sought 

The Tribunal found that the firm unreasonably failed to consider or commission medical evidence to enable them to fully understand the medical reasons for Mr. Orogbu’s absence. The failure to consider, or investigate, his disability before dismissing him made the dismissal unfair.

The subsequent failure to postpone a disciplinary meeting was unfavourable treatment, as was the failure to recognise that his absence from work between September 2020 to October 2020 was something arising in consequence of a disability.  Mr Orogbu’s summary dismissal therefore amounted to disability discrimination.

The Tribunal also found that not granting the Claimant unpaid leave to assist with managing his health condition and not arranging an occupational health report, amounted to a failure to make reasonable adjustments.

The Tribunal stated that the firm, having made incorrect assumptions about Mr. Orogbu’s health, did not reasonably investigate the absences. The Judge stated the HR department had worsened matters by not addressing potential adjustments or seeking a referral to occupational health.

Reasonable adjustments for law firms 

The Tribunal specified that adjusting billing targets and absence reporting procedures should have been considered by the firm, indicating that they could have been viewed as reasonable adjustments.

The judgement highlights that seeking occupational health advice, adjusting reporting procedures, discounting some absences and adjusting billable hours targets are steps that Tribunals will expect law firms to have considered, before dismissal.

The case is proceeding to a remedy hearing, which is likely to make a substantial financial award to Mr. Orogbu.

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