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Navigating disability discrimination - what are normal day-to-day activities?

on Friday, 17 November 2023.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has found that an Employment Tribunal was wrong to decide that a claimant who had been off work for 18 months was not disabled.


In the case of Williams v Newport City Council, the Claimant worked for the Council assessing prospective foster carers. Her original role did not require her to frequently attend court, although on one occasion she was asked by her manager to attend a hearing. She was criticised by the judge for being unable to answer questions, and this left her anxious about future hearings.

At a later date the Claimant was informed that due to planned changes to her job role, she may need to attend court again in future. This made her feel anxious and she was signed off with work-related stress. Medical advice stated that she was likely to make a full recovery as long as she was not required to attend court.

The Council did not remove the requirement and the Claimant was absent for 18 months - following which she was dismissed. She brought claims for disability discrimination and unfair dismissal.

Definition of disability

In law, a person is regarded as disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

The effect of an impairment will be classed as long-term if:

  • it has lasted or is likely to last for at least 12 months; or
  • it is likely to last for the rest of a person's life.

The Tribunal dismissed the claims, and found that the Claimant was not disabled. It found that the Claimant was suffering from a mental impairment, but that her condition improved during her absence to the point where she would have been able to perform all her duties apart from attending court. The Tribunal found that attending court was not a normal day-to-day activity, so she was not disabled in law.

The Claimant appealed to the EAT.  

EAT decision

The EAT allowed the appeal, and substituted a decision that the Claimant was disabled in law. The Tribunal had failed to take into account the Claimant's anxiety from being required to attend court, and the medical advice that said she would not be able return to her job unless the Council removed the requirement. The impairment therefore did have a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the Claimant's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Learning points

This decision highlights the importance of considering the legal definition of disability in the context of the Claimant's individual circumstances. In particular, what counts as normal day-to-day activities will vary depending on the circumstances.

In this case, the fact that the Council did not remove the requirement for the Claimant to attend court meant that this remained a normal day-to-day activity - which she was unable to carry out due to her anxiety. This was the case notwithstanding that she was able to carry out other work duties as her mental health improved.

For more information or advice on disability discrimination, please contact Alastair Fatemi in our Employment team on 0117 314 5236, or complete the form below.

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