Paying for counselling for depressed employee was reasonable adjustment
Is an employer required to pay for private counselling services for a depressed employee if his or her medical specialist recommends it? Yes, in certain cases, according to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).
In this case Mrs Butcher, an employee in a veterinary practice who had worked well over a number of years and been promoted, went off sick with depression. The consultant psychiatrist noted that it was her workload (which had increased over the years) that had triggered the depression although there were other, less significant factors involved. He recommended that her employer fund further sessions of treatment (some of which would be with a clinical psychologist), and six further psychiatric treatment sessions. Although the consultant was hopeful that this would help Mrs Butcher's condition, he could not guarantee it.
The employer posed further questions to the consultant, and he responded with a more specific diagnosis of her depression. The employer then sought further clarification, but this time there was considerable delay before the consultant replied.
In the mean time, having heard nothing further from the employer, Mrs Butcher resigned, stating that she felt that the employer had caused her depression, that it had apparently ignored the consultant's recommendations, and that it had discriminated against her on grounds of her disability (her depression). She brought a claim for constructive dismissal and disability discrimination, including a failure to make reasonable adjustments for her.
Mrs Butcher was successful in all her claims in the Employment Tribunal (ET). The employer appealed to the EAT, but the EAT upheld the ET's rulings. The EAT accepted that the employer had failed to make reasonable adjustments in failing to fund the private medical treatment as recommended by the consultant.
An employer is required to make reasonable adjustments where it applies a "provision, criterion or practice" (PCP) which puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage when compared with other non-disabled people. In this case the PCP was that Mrs Butcher would be able to return to work performing the essential functions of her role.
The EAT was not suggesting that an employer is obliged to fund private medical treatment in general for disabled employees. In addition, a reasonable adjustment has to be job-related, not just generic improvements to the employee's health. However, in this case the EAT accepted that funding the medical treatment recommended by the consultant had 'reasonable prospects' of avoiding the disadvantage of that PCP, and enabling her to return to work. The fact that Mrs Butcher's depression had been caused predominantly by her workload may have been a significant factor in its decision.
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