Mental Health and Your Employees; At What Point Does Termination Become Discrimination?


A recent Federal Court decision has awarded an ex employee $140,000 in compensation and $20,000 in penalties after his employer was found to have dismissed him due to a work-place related mental illness. Mr Robinson, who was an executive at Western Union Business Solutions had taken almost 8 months off work due to work-related stress when he was dismissed.

The case:

Prior to the dismissal, Mr Robinson’s employer had requested multiple times that he undertake an independent medical assessment. Originally, Mr Robinson refused, offering up a medical report from his own treating doctor. When his employer pointed out the request was reasonable and a failure to comply may result in his dismissal, Mr Robinson was happy to agree to the testing. The business advised him they would provide him new information as to when the testing would take place, however, they failed to do this. Western Union subsequently terminated Mr Robinson’s employment before the medical examination was completed.

What did the court say:

The court said adverse action had been taken against Mr Robinson by his employer due to his mental health.  It was held the HR managers decision in terminating Mr Robinson was due to his psychiatric condition and inability to cooperate with requests. The business argued the termination was due to Mr Robinson’s inability to return to work and complete the duties required of him, however, the court argued the employer had no proof of this as there had not been an independent medical assessment completed.

What does this tell employers?

While this case is unique in its facts, it does show us employers need to be wary when it comes to employees and mental health. You should always seek medical evaluations or some type of physical evidence of your allegations and reasoning behind an employee dismissal.

Further, this case also goes to show an employee termination case, which may seem straightforward on the face of it, may not be as valid as it seems. If you are considering terminating an employee, it is best to seek legal advice beforehand. A solicitor can advise you as to whether you have sufficient evidence for a grounds of dismissal and ensure a claim against you will be unlikely. This case goes to show a lack of evidence to justify an employee dismissal can have negative future impacts on the employer.

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