An appeal against an employment tribunal's refusal to grant an adjournment was allowed where it had failed to give adequate reasons. However, a renewed application for an adjournment was refused on the basis that unsatisfactory medical evidence had been provided in relation to a party's unfitness to attend.
The appellants appealed against a decision of an employment tribunal refusing to grant an adjournment of a hearing relating a claim for unfair dismissal brought the respondent employee (L), and applied for an application to adjourn the hearing date.
L had been employed by the appellant (P), a company, but was dismissed. She claimed her dismissal was unfair and brought other claims all of which related to the fact that she was pregnant whilst employed by P. A hearing date was fixed for the beginning of August 2012. At the beginning of 2012 the third appellant (S), an employee of P, became pregnant. In April 2012 the appellants applied to adjourn the hearing date until October 2013, which was when S's maternity leave would end, as they were concerned that the stress of the litigation could have an adverse effect on S and her unborn baby. The judge was minded to grant an adjournment but refused as he was concerned about the proposed delay. The appellants made a further application for an adjournment and provided a medical certificate from S's doctor which stated that S was not fit to attend the hearing date because of her pregnancy and stress, and the proximity of the hearing to S's due date. The employment tribunal refused the application stating that it was not in the interests of justice to postpone the hearing date until March 2013.
HELD: (1) In relation to the instant appeal, the reasons given by the employment tribunal were unsatisfactory in that they gave no indication of the factors that were taken into account, they failed to make an assessment of the medical evidence and they related to the question of whether there should be an adjournment until after March 2012 but did not address the possibility of adjourning to an earlier date. Further, the tribunal might have taken into account a letter and an attached medical report from L's solicitors which had not been seen by the appellants before it made its decision (see para.14 of judgment). (2) In relation to the instant application, the medical certificate was problematic: it related back to May 2012 and sought to deal with August 2012; it made reference to pregnancy, which of itself was not a ground of unfitness to attend a hearing, and to stress, without details as to the cause, effect, prognosis or symptoms; it appeared to contemplate that the due date was near to the hearing date and merely referred to an August hearing date when the two events were seven weeks apart, and the doctor had not addressed his mind to that time frame; it was vague and brief; it had been produced to support the application and therefore was not a freestanding piece of medical advice. It had been seven weeks since the tribunal refused the application and no new evidence had been advanced. Fairness to L meant that it was not appropriate to accede to the appellants' application for an adjournment given the quality of the evidence produced as to S's health and fitness to attend, Andreou v Lord Chancellor's Department  EWCA Civ 1192,  I.R.L.R. 728 applied. A letter produced by the appellants from S's GP after the instant EAT retired to consider its decision was unsatisfactory for reasons similar to those relating to the medical certificate (paras 17-19, 21-22).
Appeal allowed, application dismissed.
EMPLOYMENT, CIVIL PROCEDURE, ADJOURNMENT, EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNALS, MEDICAL EVIDENCE, PREGNANCY.
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