Did delusions mean an employee was disabled?

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'Disability' is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. It applies where a person has an impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. In Sullivan v Bury Street Capital Limited the question was whether an employee who the employer knew had paranoid delusions would fall within this description for the purposes of making a claim that they had suffered unlawful discrimination. 


In 2013 Mr Sullivan, a sales executive, had suffered paranoid delusions that a group of Russian gangsters were out to get him following the breakup of his relationship with a Ukrainian woman. He claimed that as a result he did not sleep well and was late for work. His condition improved later in the year. However, his lateness continued to be an issue in the following years until in September 2017 Mr Sullivan was dismissed due to these timekeeping concerns. He claimed disability discrimination.


It was held Mr Sullivan was not disabled within the meaning of the Equality Act. Whilst he had a mental impairment the delusions had lasted only in 2013. That meant that it did not have a “long-term” effect as it. Even if as alleged the delusions had started again a few months before his dismissal it would not qualify him as disabled as the impairment was not regarded as likely to recur when diagnosed in 2013. Further, the employer had not known as at the time of dismissal he was disabled.

Key points

This highlights that in considering whether a person is disabled it has to be established that the condition has lasted over 12 months or is likely to recur. The fact it did recur will not be sufficient. The test is whether at the time it was having a substantial adverse effect it would be assessed as likely to recur. Of course, if the Tribunal had been persuaded that the delusions had continued to have a substantial adverse effect continually since 2013 it would also have been sufficient. 

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