Pye v Queen Mary University of London – adjournments and medical evidence

This post examines the recent Employment Appeal Tribunal decision in Pye v Queen Mary University of London, which concerns the discretion of the Employment Tribunal in deciding to adjourn or stay proceedings in the event that the Claimant is indisposed to attend a Hearing.

The facts in Pye v Queen Mary University of London

Dr Pye (“the Appellant” or “the Claimant”) had submitted a claim to the Employment Tribunal as to the way he had been dealt with by Queen Mary University of London had caused him to suffer from stress, and that this stress had caused him to become ill. He therefore submitted employment law claims for unfair dismissal (including automatic unfair dismissal), direct discrimination, harassment, whistleblowing, victimisation, and wrongful dismissal (among others). The Hearing was listed for 30 days and was due to commence on 8 February 2011.

On 14 January 2011 the Claimant obtained a medical report from a consultant psychiatrist stating that the Claimant was not fit to attend the Hearing and plead his case. The medical report further stated that there was a reasonable prospect of the Claimant’s recovery from stress after three months. This appears (as some cases are) to have been a relatively acrimonious case and when the Claimant submitted his application notice to postpone the Hearing he neglected to copy the application or the medical report to the Respondent. He only addressed such material to the Employment Tribunal. The Employment Tribunal, further to the relevant employment law rules, refused to hear the Claimant’s application as the Respondent would be prejudiced by this. After a period the Claimant submitted a second medical report on the 2nd February 2011. He failed, however, to send the second medical report to the Respondent and sent only the application to postpone the Hearing to the Respondent. The Employment Tribunal again refused the Claimant’s application. The Claimant therefore attempted on 7 February 2011, the day before the Hearing, to postpone the Hearing for the third time. It appears at this point that the Claimant had disclosed at least some of the relevant medical evidence to the Respondent. The Employment Judge dealing with the application again rejected the request for the postponement, notwithstanding the strong recommendation of the consultant psychologist that the Claimant was not fit to attend a Hearing. The Hearing went ahead and the Claimant was unrepresented. Dr Pye therefore appealed.

The law relating to procedure and postponements

The power to adjourn proceedings comes under rule 10 of the Employment Tribunal Rules 2004. Under such rules the Employment Tribunal has the discretion to adjourn a Hearing if a party or their representative does not attend. This discretion must be exercised with regard to reason, relevance and fairness. If a litigant cannot attend an Hearing through no fault of his own then the Employment Tribunal must grant an adjournment (Teinaz v London Borough of Wandsworth). In cases of medical indisposition to attend a hearing, the Tribunal must have reference to the nature of the medical report or certificate that has been provided to them, and in particular the wording of such medical evidence. It was noted in Teinaz that the wording of the medical evidence should state that the Claimant is unfit to attend the Hearing and that a prognosis should be provided.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal’s decision in Pye v Queen Mary University of London

The Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld the appeal. The Employment Tribunal had failed to deal with the matter fairly as it had not taken into sufficient consideration the medical evidence supplied by the consultant psychiatrist, particularly the possibility of the Claimant’s recovery within a 3-month time period. The case was therefore remitted to the Tribunal.

Our thoughts on Pye v Queen Mary University of London

This case offers some useful employment law guidelines on how Claimants (and Respondents) can seek to postpone a Hearing and the guidelines that they should follow should they wish to do so. In cases of medical inability to attend a Hearing a party must:

  • Obtain medical evidence of their incapacity from an appropriate person
  • Ensure that the medical evidence (if favourable) contains the assertion that they are unfit to plead their case and give a reasonable prognosis for recovery
  • Supply the medical evidence to the Tribunal within a reasonable time frame – the shorter the time, the less likely that the Tribunal will grant an adjournment
  • Supply the medical evidence and application to the Respondent, in accordance with the relevant procedural rules