Meeting asleep

To be fair, a lot of people fell asleep in John's meetings

A solicitor suffering from fatigue has won an unfair dismissal claim against his former firm.

Solicitor Chinedu Orogbu joined legal aid firm Duncan Lewis Solicitors in February 2018 as a director in the housing department. He was the sole member of the firm's Dalston branch in London.

The firm set Orogbu a billing target of three times his salary, which equated to around four hours of chargeable time a day. He did not reach his target throughout his time at Duncan Lewis, but was given some latitude as it was a new department.

Orogbu told the employment tribunal hearing that he had suffered from fatigue which started in April 2019 and then worsened after the Covid lockdown in March 2020.  At one of the hearings, a judge deemed that by September 2020, Orogbu was a disabled person due to suffering from such "extreme fatigue". 

The tribunal heard that the fatigue caused Orogbu to lie down for most of the day, and that he was unable to carry out basic tasks like the washing up, or opening post. The judge accepted that the solicitor's "energy levels were so low that he could hardly function". 

The solicitor admitted that he had failed to carry out his role on 70 days between April and October 2020, and that there were other dates when he carried out very little work. During that time, Orogbu didn't comply with the firm's absence reporting requirements; he told the tribunal that it was because he was not well enough to do so. 

In May 2020, Orogbu told the firm's managing director Nina Joshi that he had been unwell. Joshi told Orogbu in a later meeting that his performance was "wholly unacceptable" and that he had committed "gross misconduct" by not reporting his absences. 

The firm set a disciplinary meeting for Orogbu, which the solicitor asked to be postponed. But the firm refused, stating that no medical evidence had been produced for the delay. The meeting went ahead and the firm dismissed Orogbu a few days later, in November 2020, for unauthorised absence. 

The tribunal accepted Orogbu's evidence that he was unable to report his absences because of his ill health, and that "when he was absent, the days merged into one and he was not conscious or aware of the extent of his absence.” 

The tribunal held that Duncan Lewis made incorrect assumptions about the claimant’s health which led them to conclude that he was grossly incompetent, but that such assumptions “were not reasonable grounds on which to form that belief”. The judge said the firm should have obtained medical evidence to investigate Orogbu's absences, and his failure to report the absences.  The firm had unfounded suspicions that Orogbu was dishonest, the judge added.

The tribunal ruled that Orogbu had been unfairly dismissed, and also upheld part of his disability discrimination claim against the firm.

A remedy hearing will follow.

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Anonymous 03 November 23 08:14

That is madness. You can't sack someone for staying in bed and not coming to work?

Anonymous 03 November 23 09:22

I have a chronic health condition that leads to me before fatigued at times. It's difficult to get out of bed and debilitating.

You need to work with your employer. Mine allows me flexibility to WFH on days when I wake up feeling extremely tired. I'm not too ill to work, but it's not possible to handle the commute, office conversations and general hustle and bustle. I can WFH from my sofa and still be productive and get a solid 6-9 hours of billable hours depending on my health.

Feel for the employer here. You need to have frank discussions.

Merely an oberservation 03 November 23 09:32

Intrigued Associate, you mean you trudge through whatever work has magically been provided to you for 8 or more hours per day. I assume this guy had to generate his own. Big difference my friend.

Mr Wise 03 November 23 10:19

"The tribunal heard that the fatigue caused Orogbu to lie down for most of the day, and that he was unable to carry out basic tasks like the washing up, or opening post. The judge accepted that the solicitor's 'energy levels were so low that he could hardly function'."

Rather difficult to see how the firm could possibly have made reasonable adjustments to cater for that.

Spotty Lizard 03 November 23 10:33

Is the obligation on the employer to obtain medical evidence to disprove the illness claim, then, rather than upon the employee to produce medical evidence to back up his assertions?

Did the tribunal hear any relevant medical evidence itself, going beyond this guy's statement that "I tired"?

Drumlins 03 November 23 10:37

Intrigued US Associate - probably because this chap was practising law, not just piecing together bits of precedent documents.

Anonymous 03 November 23 11:20

Even on my most hungover, sorry, I mean 'fatigued' days I can manage to bang out four hours of chargeable.

Can only imagine the kind of epic benders that Mr Orogbu must have been getting on to be so knackered that he couldn't even manage half a day of holding emails. Surprised he even lived to attend the Tribunal.

mine's a pint 03 November 23 14:07

It's Friday afternoon and I can feel a bout of orogbuitis coming on. Pub anyone?

Marvel. 06 November 23 18:55

Oh Let’s hope none of you posters ever have depression or any health condition that leaves you so fatigued that you can’t work.

In the meantime, please don’t volunteer for any roles requiring you to exercise compassion, understanding, or carry out reasonable investigations..

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