dealing with adjournments on medical grounds

What should a tribunal do when a claimant is ill due to stress cased by an employer’s alleged bullying?

This was the question for the Court of Appeal in Riley v The Crown Prosecution Service. The history of relevant events is complicated so please bear with me! Tyica Riley was appointed as a Senior Crown Prosecutor with the CPS in February 2005. In August 2006 she raised a grievance alleging bullying and harassment which was upheld in part. In November 2007 she was transferred to a different team in Lewisham and in August 2008 she went off sick. She never returned to work thereafter. In September 2008 she raised a second grievance and this was not upheld in June 2009. Further it was suggested that the allegations were false and made maliciously. This led to disciplinary proceedings. However in August 2009 an occupational health report was obtained, confirming that she remained unfit to return to work and that removal of the disciplinary process “will significantly improve her ill health”. Also in August her appeal in respect of the first grievance was rejected.

Ms Riley commenced her first employment tribunal claim in September 2009, alleging race discrimination, disability discrimination and whistle blowing. In December 2009 an appeal by another employee against the finding made against him in Ms Riley’s first grievance was upheld and in February 2010 Ms Riley’s appeal against the rejection of her second grievance was also rejected. It was rejected again in March 2010.

In April 2010 Ms Riley commenced her second employment tribunal claim, concerning allegations of bullying by the employee who was the subject of her first grievance. Notwithstanding her continuing absence through ill health a disciplinary hearing was scheduled to take place in early June 2010. Unsurprisingly Ms Riley provided notification that she was unfit to attend. In July 2010 a psychiatric report was obtained which concluded that Ms Riley was “unable to cope or attend any legal proceedings or hearings” and that her problems were “a direct result of her on going legal battle”.

tribunals must check parties’ availability when listing hearings

Listing of tribunal hearings is a perennial problem for all concerned, particularly if many witnesses are required.
University Of East Anglia v Amaikwu was an appeal against the refusal of an application for an adjournment of a hearing of an unfair dismissal and discrimination claim by the respondent to the claim. The application was made when the tribunal relisted the hearing after the original date had been cancelled at the last moment because no judge was available to hear the case (an all too frequent occurrence, anecdotal evidence suggests).
A new date was sent out without first asking the parties whether there were any periods when they or their witnesses could not attend. The date given was when one of the employer’s witnesses had already booked to travel to Albania for a family wedding. The notification sent by Employment Judge Pritchard-Witts was peremptory and unequivocal:
The hearing must take priority over a family wedding. The Claimant’s objections are well founded and this case is becoming decidedly stale. Postponement refused.
Some might take the view that a simple assertion, without more, that an employment tribunal hearing "must" take priority over a family wedding is a bold call.