Disability is a broad legal concept and encompasses not just physical incapacity but also mental ill health and all of its consequences. In one case, a supermarket worker whose short temper was a symptom of his depressive illness won more than £6,000 in compensation for disability discrimination (Wills v Marks & Spencer plc).
Mr Wills began working for Marks & Spencer in November 2014. He had been diagnosed as suffering from depression in 2012 and took medication to control the symptoms. From November 2015, however, his mental health had begun to deteriorate. He had difficulty sleeping and suffered from mood swings, which sometimes made work situations difficult.
In January 2016, he was called into a manager's office following a disagreement with a customer who had complained. He strongly felt that he was in the right and suffered an outbreak of explosive anger during which he threw his arms up in frustration, swore and knocked a plastic cup of water off a table.
During the ensuing disciplinary process, he revealed that he suffered from depression and that he tended to become angry in stressful or frustrating situations. His employer accepted that his condition did provide some mitigation, but decided to dismiss him on the basis that his conduct remained unacceptable.
In upholding Mr Wills's disability discrimination claim under Section 15 of the Equality Act 2010, an Employment Tribunal noted that there was no dispute that his depressive illness was a disability. Marks & Spencer had constructive knowledge that his loss of temper arose out of his condition and his dismissal amounted to unfavourable treatment.
Dismissal was not the only possible outcome and his employer had not sought to obtain medical evidence in order to assess the impact of Mr Wills's disability on his behaviour. He had thus suffered discrimination that was neither justified nor proportionate. His compensation was agreed at £6,518.