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Can disciplining as a result of sickness absence amount to disability discrimination?

In a recent case, an employee had a disability causing high absence levels over the years. As a result, the employer allowed the employee greater periods of sickness absence than those permitted under their sickness absence policy.

Nevertheless, when the employees’ absence reached 60 days in a 12 month period the employer considered that it was appropriate to issue a written warning. This also meant her contractual sick pay ceased for future absences.

The employer said that they were pursuing the legitimate aim of raising attendance levels throughout the company and seeking to improve her attendance.

The employee claimed disability discrimination.

Although it was agreed that the employer had a legitimate aim the tribunals decided that the written warning was not a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. The Company was unable to justify the how the issue of a written warning would benefit their intention of raising the employee’s attendance.

This case serves as a reminder of the sensitivities of dealing with disability-related absence.