West Yorkshire Fire and Civil Defence Authority v King, EAT, [2004] All ER (D) 344 (June)

Reducing sick pay: Mr King, a fireman, reported sick in February 1999 with depression. His six-month period of full sick pay came to an end in August 1999.

Under the terms of his contract, the period of full pay would be extended to 12 months if the illness had resulted from his duties. The Fire Authority otherwise had the discretion to reduce the sick pay to whatever level it considered appropriate, subject to a maximum reduction to half pay for the next six months. The Fire Authority concluded that King’s depression was not work-related, and cut his pay by half. He unsuccessfully appealed and, after his ill-health retirement, he brought a claim for breach of contract.

The tribunal decided that the Fire Authority had breached the contractual sick-leave provisions and had failed to consider King’s personal circumstances (his wife was also absent from work). The tribunal awarded King the equivalent of a further six months’ full pay, and six months at half pay.

On appeal, the Employment Appeals Tribunals (EAT) decided the Fire Authority had properly exercised its discretion, and was entitled to conclude that King’s illness was not work-related. His personal circumstances were not a relevant consideration.

Employers do not have to consider the financial hardship that may be suffered when deciding whether or not to continue paying sick pay – such a duty would extend beyond the normal employer/employee relationship. Nor is it for them to make subjective enquiries into any worsening effects the financial hardship may have on the physical, emotional or psychological symptoms of the worker.

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