In a recent employment tribunal case, an employer has been found guilty of failing to make temporary reasonable adjustments for a disabled employee, which, as a result, cost the employer in excess of £75,000 in an employment tribunal award. Employers have a legal duty under Equality Act 2010 (s.20) to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees. More specifically when the employer’s provision, criterion, practice or a physical feature of their premises puts a disabled employee at a substantial disadvantage due to their disability. Our essential guide review the key facts and provides practical guidance for businesses.
Background to the Case
In this case, the employee was asked by her employers to move teams and floors. She was the only one who was told to move. The employee advised her employer that she was suffering from alcohol dependency and could not move desks as a result.
The employer obtained an occupational health report which advised the employer that the employee suffers with depression and the desk move exacerbated her condition and caused anxiety. The occupational health report has also advised the employer that the employee “remains vulnerable to further episodes of this condition, the frequency and severity of which cannot be predicted”. The occupational health doctor confirmed that the employee was likely to be considered disabled under the Equality Act.
Sickness absence ensued for alcohol dependency, depression and anxiety. The employee was advised by phone that she was moving to the new floor upon her return. The employer received a letter from the employee’s GP asking the employer to reconsider its position and to reconsider the desk move as this would “cause undue stress which would aggravate her problems with anxiety and depression”.
During further sickness absence and continuing discussions between the employee and the employer about the move, a further occupational health assessment was carried out. The report advised the employer that the employee was “keen to return to work, however she needs to go back to where she was with her desk prior to the absence and that after a few days settling in she will be able to manage in work”.
The employer met with the employee following the receipt of the occupational health report and declined the employee’s request to remain with the old team for a short period of time. Subsequently, the employer dismissed the employee due to sickness absence. The employee’s appeal was unsuccessful.
Employment Tribunal Findings
The employment tribunal found that the employee “needed the security of an established routine at the workplace and that any change posed a threat which unsettled her”. As part of her court case defence, the employee gave examples of how she reacted in stressful situations, for example she would not board a busy bus or queues of 3 people or more in a shop – she had a fear of drawing attention to herself.
The tribunal came to the conclusion that the employee was put at substantial disadvantage compared to her able-bodied colleagues due to the request that she move desks. Furthermore, the tribunal has also concluded that, although the employer did put in place other reasonable adjustments such as phased return to work, reduction in hours and lighter workload, the employer failed to make a reasonable adjustment by not allowing the employee to return to her old team for a short period of time to phase back into work.
The employee received £75,294.89.
Temporary Reasonable Adjustments | Key Guidance for Businesses
It is vitally important that any employer faced with the obligation to make reasonable adjustments gives this some serious thought as a failure to do so could result in substantial awards as the above case has shown.
Unhelpfully, the Equality Act does not specify any particular factors that employers should take into account when considering reasonable adjustments. Additionally, there is no obligation on the disabled employee to suggest or propose what adjustments should be made (but the employer should ask nonetheless).
Employers should consider factors such as:
- Making adjustments to the premises such as widening the doorway to allow a wheelchair to pass or building a ramp.
- Allocating some of the employee’s duties to another.
- Change of role.
- Changing the working hours or giving longer or more breaks throughout the day.
- Employing a support worker to assist a disabled employee.
If you are faced with a situation where temporary reasonable adjustments may be required, do not hesitate to contact our FREE HR Advice Line for legal guidance you can trust.