In a case that raises questions over the extent of employers’ duties under disability discrimination legislation, an appeal tribunal has ruled that a police force acted unlawfully by refusing to reemploy an officer following her resignation.
Sarah Jane Hinsley was suffering from undiagnosed depression when she quit West Mercia Police in January 2007, saying that she could no longer cope with the demands of her job. She later visited a GP who told her that she was suffering from severe depression, which was subsequently treated with anti-depressants.
On receiving the diagnosis, Hinsley asked for her old job back, only two weeks after resigning, but an internal panel decided to refuse her request the following June and her case was taken up by the Police Federation. The decision was later upheld by the force’s Deputy Chief Constable.
While an employment tribunal also initially found in favour of West Mercia Police, saying that it had acted reasonably, an appeal tribunal has now reversed the decision. It ruled that the force’s duty towards Hinsley extended beyond her resignation date and she should have been re-employed once she changed her mind.
It also found that by refusing to take her back, the force had discriminated against her on grounds of disability and had failed to make “reasonable adjustment” for that disability when she asked to be reinstated. The tribunal has yet to decide on the amount of compensation that West Mercia should pay Hinsley.
Employment law experts said that the case was the first of its kind and would have significant repercussions for other employers.
Juliette Franklin, a lawyer with Russell, Jones & Walker who handled Hinsley’s case, told the Sunday Telegraph: “This could impact on the way other employers need to think about their duty under the Disability Discrimination Act. The fact is that Mrs Hinsley was not in a position to make a measured and appropriate decision about her career whilst suffering from depression.”
Gareth Brahams, a solicitor with Stewarts Law, agreed. “The normal rule has been that once you have resigned, you can’t change your mind. But employers will have to think much more carefully in future when dealing with someone who has resigned because of a disability and subsequently retracts that resignation.”
This finding in favour of the employee was also likely to create “further confusion and complications” for employers, he added.
West Mercia said they were unable to comment until they had read the tribunal’s written judgement, which is due to be published shortly.