Mr Kuppala was employed by HBOS Plc as a banking manager. He was a diabetic. The effect of his diabetes meant he sometimes became lethargic, unable to concentrate and confused if his blood sugar levels were uncontrolled. Stress could also significantly affect his blood sugar levels.
Mr Kuppala breached a number of the company security policies as a result of his symptoms and was dismissed.
Was Mr Kuppala subjected to discrimination arising from his disability?
Mr B Kuppala v HBOS Plc
Mr Kuppala, who suffers from type 2 diabetes, worked as a bank manager for HBOS.
When diagnosed, Mr Kuppala did not raise his diabetes with his line managers because he felt that it would put him at risk during a reorganisation exercise that was due to occur at the bank soon after.
Mr Kuppala continued to work for the bank after the reorganisation. During this process, many of the other local branches closed, increasing footfall at the branch where he worked. The stresses of the job and increased customer demand meant he was unable to take breaks and was not controlling his diabetes. Consequently, he said he felt shaky, weak, hungry, and lethargic and that he experienced symptoms of confusion.
There were various incidents at work, including Mr Kuppala inadvertently locking a customer in the bank for three hours after it was closed and leaving his keys hanging in the front door unattended. When the incidents were investigated, he disclosed that he had been diagnosed with diabetes and needed to eat regularly but that he had to skip lunches because there had not been enough staff to support the branch.
Mr Kuppala was dismissed following a disciplinary hearing which found he had shown “serious disregard for the well-documented and established procedures” of the bank. He was not referred for any occupational health opinion prior to his dismissal. He brought complaints of unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal and discrimination arising from a disability.
The Employment Tribunal held that Mr Kuppala was unfairly dismissed and subjected to discrimination arising from a disability. His condition limited his ability to follow the company’s proper security protocol. In relation to the discrimination claim, the problems arose as a result of his failure to manage his condition as a consequence of increased demand on his time. The dismissal was clearly a consequence of something arising from his diabetes and the risk of further security incidents could have been avoided by issuing a lesser sanction and helping Mr Kuppala to manage his condition.
In relation to the unfair dismissal claim, the tribunal found that a reasonable employer in the circumstances would have referred Mr Kuppala for occupational health advice to determine the extent to which his condition had caused the misconduct.
HBOS were ordered to pay Mr Kuppala £49,457. This would have been more; however his award was reduced substantially to reflect both a likelihood that he may have been dismissed had a fair process been followed and his contributory fault.
Diabetes can be a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. Employers should be mindful that allowances may need to be made for any diabetic employees such as regular breaks or allowing time off work for medical appointments. Adjustments may also need to be considered in relation to productivity levels.
It is important for employers to consider whether an underlying disability is a contributing factor to the behaviour of an employee facing allegations of misconduct and to take account of this during any disciplinary procedure. Employers must be prepared to make further enquiries, such as referring the employee to occupational health.
If you have any queries in relation to discrimination or any other HR queries please contact our employment team on 01228 552600 or 01524 548494.