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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