Senior Teacher at Wetherby Prep School Unfairly Dismissed After He ‘Fell Asleep’ During Classes

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Photo Credits: Adrian Swancar

A senior teacher at Wetherby Prep School in Notting Hill was dismissed from his job in July 2022. This follows after he allegedly fell asleep at his desk during classes. However, an Employment Tribunal found that he had been unfairly dismissed as his employer had failed to follow a fair process in dismissing him.

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What Exactly Happened?

Senior Teacher Diagnosed with Mental Health Disability

Jason Smith worked as a senior teacher at Wetherby Prep School since 2006. His employer was Alpha Plus Group (“APG”). For 14 years, his attendance record and performance were excellent; however, he developed a mental health condition after a relationship breakdown in January 2020.

His psychiatric diagnosis was that of “adjustment disorder with depressive features”, which is classed as a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010.

After spending some time with family in Australia, Mr Smith returned to work as a senior teacher at Wetherby Prep School, where he was then referred to occupational health; however, no recommendations were actioned at that stage.

In March 2021, Mr Smith confided to a colleague that he had been having suicidal thoughts. Concerned, the colleague alerted one of the school’s senior leadership team, who in turn passed the information to the headteacher, deputy head, and the head of wellbeing. These sent messages of support to Mr Smith, who was distressed to discover that the colleague had shared his confidences. Mr Smith began to suffer from severe anxiety and was deemed unfit to work in May 2021.

Read: Headteacher Sacked Unfairly For Tapping Son’s Hand;
ET Calls it Unfair Dismissal and a “Reasonable Chastisement” by Parent

Wetherby Prep School Teacher Takes Multiple Sick Days and ‘Falls Asleep’ at this Desk

Mr Smith returned to work as a senior teacher at Wetherby Prep School in September 2021 but took multiple sick days over the following five months. On numerous occasions, he did not inform APG of his inability to work before 07:30 am as prescribed by the company’s absence policy because his medication often caused him to sleep through his alarm.

The company made a reasonable adjustment whereby Mr Smith was entitled to inform APG of his absences before 08:00 am. Additional reasonable adjustments included

  1. Enabling Mr Smith to have a flexible timetable without any marking or planning requirements,
  2. Permitting him to choose the year groups he taught, and
  3. Regular meetings with his manager.

Despite these, certain issues began to arise in Mr Smith’s work. A number of parents lodged complaints about Mr Smith shouting at students without reason, and some of his colleagues had reported him speaking negatively about managers in communal areas.

On several occasions, Mr Smith was also seen asleep at his desk during the day, although he later denied this.

Read: Managing Social Anxiety Disorder at Work: Advice for Employees

Wetherby Prep School Teacher Dismissed Due to Unpredictable Temperament

In March 2022, APG arranged an investigation meeting to discuss Mr Smith’s multiple absences and his alleged sleeping in classes. No notice of the meeting’s purpose or content was provided, and Mr Smith was not informed that a colleague could accompany him to the meeting.

After this meeting took place, Mr Smith’s colleagues raised further concerns relating to his conduct, including excessive harshness with students.

Mr Smith was invited to attend a formal capability meeting in May 2022, but this was subsequently postponed multiple times. This was due to Mr Smith’s continued ill health, for which he had again been deemed unfit for work. APG’s head of HR, Mr Brereton, contacted Mr Smith via email on 1 June, stating that the capability meeting would be fixed for 1 July and that no further postponements would be possible.

Mr Smith emailed Mr Brereton at 11:39 pm on 30 June to request that the meeting be postponed as the person who had been planning to accompany him was no longer able to attend. APG proceeded with the meeting and Mr Smith was told to provide written submissions by 04:30 pm; however, he failed to do this.

Ultimately, Mr Smith was dismissed from his job at Wetherby Prep School on the grounds of ill health. APG noted his multiple absences, failure to comply with absence reporting procedures, falling asleep at work, and his “unpredictable temperament”.

Mr Smith appealed the decision, for which a hearing was arranged for August 2022. He was not permitted to have a friend accompany him to the hearing and the appeal was ultimately rejected, following which he brought a claim for unfair dismissal.

Read: Sick Leave: Poor Mental Health Found to be Leading Cause
of Long-Term Absence at Work

What Did the Employment Tribunal Say?

Jason Smith’s claim for unfair dismissal was heard in the Employment Tribunal by Employment Judge Lewis. On the evidence provided, the judge held his employer had discriminated against Mr Smith on the grounds of disability. Plus, APG had proceeded directly to dismissal instead of adhering to its policies governing capability, absence, or discipline. As such, he had been unfairly dismissed.

The Tribunal also found that APG had failed to make reasonable adjustments twice. First by refusing to postpone the hearing from 1 July when Mr Smith had a fit note for that date, and second by not permitting Mr Smith to be accompanied to his appeal hearing. The judgment stated:

This did put the claimant at a substantial disadvantage because due to his disability, he was not fit to attend the hearing at that point and certainly not without a companion. Putting his arguments would not have had the same persuasive effects even if he had been able to do so within the limited timescale. The end result was that he was dismissed without being heard.”

Other claims by the senior teacher at Wetherby Prep School such as indirect disability discrimination because of being unable to make reasonable adjustments to absence reporting procedures weren’t upheld. The Tribunal found that adjusting the reporting time to 08:00 am was reasonable.

The compensation for the unfair dismissal of a senior teacher at Wetherby Prep School will be determined in August 2024.

How Can Redmans Solicitors Help?

If you think you have been unfairly dismissed, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact the employment law specialists at Redmans Solicitors for a free, confidential consultation.

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