The use of medical evidence in disciplinary proceedings

Disciplinary action against an employee

When an employer decides to take disciplinary action against an employee for any particular acts which have occurred during their employment it is advisable that all factors which may have an effect on that person’s conduct should be taken into consideration.

Accordingly if that person is suffering with a medical condition which may affect their conduct at work, this medical condition should be taken into consideration when taking disciplinary action against that employee.

If this condition is not taken into consideration then this could result in a claim for unfair dismissal.

Has there been a recent example where a medical condition was not taken into consideration?

There has been a recent case whereby a community worker was sacked after allegedly looking at a porn website in front of children.

How did this occur during his employment?

The issue happened in 2007 when young children were being shown round a school where the man was working as a community worker. The man had logged onto the website meaning that this was shown in front of the children when they were being shown round the school.

What action was taken in this case?

Following a disciplinary hearing the man was sacked from his job.

Was there a medical condition which had some effect on this case?

The man was diabetic and claimed to be having a hypoglycemic episode which meant that he involuntarily logged onto the website and was not aware that he had done this.

What is meant by a hypoglycemic episode?

There are two different effects on the body experienced by diabetics. They are as follows:

  • Hyperglycemia
  • Hypoglycemia

Hyperglycemia

Untreated diabetes is characterised by high blood pressure which is called hyperglycemia.

Hypoglycemia

Diabetics on drug treatment where insulin is required to be taken can suffer low blood sugar which is termed hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia can cause effects which on the face of them are similar to alcohol consumption. Hyperglycemia can also cause similar mental impairment but to a lesser degree and with a much slower onset.

Was this condition taken into consideration during the disciplinary proceedings?

This condition was not taken into consideration during the disciplinary proceedings and the man was sacked from his job.  The medical evidence supplied to the disciplinary tribunal was dismissed by the tribunal.

What was held upon appeal of the case?

Following the appeal of the case it was held that the man’s medical condition should have been taken into consideration. As a consequence a finding of unfair / wrongful dismissal was found and the man was reinstated with his job and received a large monetary payout in terms of compensation.

Was this the correct decision on appeal?

The issue of hypoglycemic attacks is an issue which is dealt with by the criminal law absolving a defendant from criminal conviction for some crimes when the defendant was deemed not to have been reckless with his illness.

It follows that this evidence should therefore be acceptable in other areas of the law whereby the individual involved is claiming that they suffered a complete loss of voluntary control.

Does this mean that all medical conditions and evidence should be taken into consideration in disciplinary hearings?

Following this decision it can be seen that medical conditions and evidence of these should be taken into consideration when they have an effect on the potential conduct by the individual or they are actually the cause of the conduct.

In this case the medical condition was the reason why he involuntary logged onto the website meaning he was unaware of it being on the screen and able to be viewed by the children. Therefore the reason he was sacked from his job was simply due to this conduct.

Consequently he was not aware of his actions and if those actions were the reason he was sacked it is clear that the medical evidence in support of this condition should not be dismissed.

However, if a medical condition has no relation to the conduct or the reason why an individual was sacked it follows that it is not required to be assessed in the disciplinary proceedings.