Dealing with an employee suffering from paranoid delusions.

7th January 2011

Dealing with an employee suffering from paranoid delusions.

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In Martin v Devonshires Solicitors, the EAT has approved a tribunal decision to dismiss claims of unfair dismissal and victimisation brought by an employee who had been dismissed after lodging eight internal grievances.

The grievances started from an allegation that two partners had made discriminatory comments against a secretary after they found out that she had sued her previous employer for sex discrimination.

The outcome of the investigation was that the two partners did not know about her claim against her previous employer and had not made discriminatory remarks.

Ms Martin subsequently went off sick and it transpired that she had recurrent depressive illness, with psychotic episodes during which she suffered paranoid delusions. Her psychiatrist opined that the original grievance was probably as a result of an auditory hallucination. Ms Martin went on to make seven further grievances alleging discrimination or victimisation and commenced a claim in the tribunal.

An employee who brings a grievance that includes discrimination is covered by the victimisation provisions of the Equality Act 2010. In a nutshell an employee has a right to bring a grievance in good faith and not to be dismissed for doing so.

When faced with multiple untrue grievances, an employer can dismiss the employee if it can show that the grievances were made in bad faith. However, because of Ms Martin’s mental illness, proving that the grievances where brought in bad faith was not an option as the employee genuinely believed in the hallucinations she had heard.

Another difficulty is that paranoid delusions are, in most cases, the effect of a mental illness covered by the disability provisions of the Equality Act. In this instance the tribunal found that continuing employment was not a reasonable adjustment required under the Act.

The tribunal and the EAT decided that the dismissal of the employee was justified. Whilst the dismissal was clearly linked to the bringing of the grievances, they decided that the dismissal was not triggered by the allegations brought by the employee but by the manner in which she brought them, the persistence of the employee in bringing them and her refusal to accept that the incidents she claimed had triggered her grievances were pure delusion.

It took seven months and eight grievance hearings for the employer to dismiss. It is clear from the tribunal decision, that it would not have approved the employer’s decision to dismiss if it had been taken shortly after the initial grievance.

Unfortunately there is no quick fix to this type of situation. Whilst in most circumstances, most employment disputes can be resolved through a termination package, making such an offer would have been unlikely to succeed in the circumstances. Any offer would have been likely to fuel the employee’s paranoia.

We can’t even advise our clients to avoid employing employees with paranoid delusions, as this would amount to direct disability discrimination. However, if you do find yourself in a situation where you are facing multiple grievances, take heart: with patience and management time a dismissal can be fair.

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