January 31, 2018

Can a Discriminatory Demotion Justify an Employee's Refusal to Work?

In Rochford v WNS Global Services (UK) Ltd [2017] EWCA Civ 2205 the Court of Appeal considered whether an employer’s discriminatory demotion justified an employee’s refusal to carry out any work.

Mr Rochford was employed by WNS Global Services (WNS) as a senior sales vice president. He was off work for almost a year with a back condition which amounted to a disability for the purpose of the U.K.’s discrimination legislation. On his return, WNS demoted him to a lesser role (on full pay) and gave him no indication of when his full role would recommence. Mr Rochford refused to carry out any work in the lesser role and consequently was summarily dismissed for gross misconduct. Mr Rochford argued that he was dismissed because of his disability and therefore that his dismissal was discriminatory. 

The Court of Appeal found the Employment Tribunal’s decision that the dismissal was not discriminatory to have been reasonable. While WNS’s decision to demote Mr Rochford was itself discriminatory, the reason for the dismissal was his refusal to carry out any work. The Court of Appeal further held that just because the employee is the victim of a discriminatory act, he could not simply refuse to do any further work. However, the Court of Appeal indicated that the position may well have been different if Mr Rochford had worked under protest or resigned and claimed constructive dismissal.

It is important to note that this case was very fact specific and should not be seen as permitting employers to dismiss employees who raise complaints about discrimination. It is also a reminder that employers should carefully manage a disabled employee’s return to work.

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