Employment Tribunals (ETs) are at the forefront of the battle to eradicate discrimination in all its forms from the workplace. It is obviously vital that they practice what they preach and that is all the more reason why they are anxious to ensure that even the most vulnerable complainants receive a fair hearing.
One case in point concerned an academic who suffered from severe mental health difficulties and claimed that he had endured disability discrimination, victimisation and unfair dismissal at the hands of a university. His complaints were dismissed by an ET, but he challenged that decision before the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) on the basis that he had not been afforded a fair hearing.
He submitted that the ET should have taken it upon itself to postpone or adjourn the proceedings, in which he represented himself, when the extent of his mental health difficulties became apparent. He had broken down under cross-examination and, although he had been willing to continue, the ET had acceded to the university’s request to cut short the hearing and move straight to closing submissions.
In rejecting his appeal, however, the EAT noted that he had been aware of his right to seek a postponement or adjournment of the hearing, but had not done so. The ET had made appropriate adjustments to enable him to fully participate in the case until he broke down. The decision to bring his cross-examination to a premature end had if anything disadvantaged the university. He had still been able to present his case and, viewed overall, the hearing had been a fair one.