Employment Appeal Tribunal Decision: Reasonable Adjustments
A recent Employment Appeal Tribunal case demonstrates that it’s up to the company – not the employee – to identify adjustments for staff with disabilities.
This case involved a senior employee with dyspraxia and dyslexia. In 2013, the employee expressed concern that a lack of adjustments to accommodate her disability meant she was having to work long hours to complete her work. The employer agreed to her request for compressed hours (36 hours worked over four days rather than five) so that she would have greater opportunity to complete her work and could schedule hospital appointments on her non-working day. It also agreed to provide assistive software.
The employee put no further adjustments forward at the time, but her tribunal claim for disability discrimination proceeded on the basis that the employer should have reduced her workload so she would not be required to work longer hours than her colleagues to complete her tasks. This had not been mentioned when the original meeting to confirm adjustments occurred but was identified during the tribunal proceedings as a solution to remove the disadvantage. The tribunal found that the employer had breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments.
The employer appealed against that finding, arguing that the tribunal had arrived at a solution that had not been suggested by the employee herself but this was rejected as the “critical question is whether the respondent had taken such steps as is reasonable to have to take to avoid the disadvantage”. The tribunal had identified reduced workload as a reasonable adjustment. The fact that this solution had not been suggested by the employee was irrelevant when the adjustment had a real prospect of removing the disadvantage.
This decision shows that employers must apply a broad approach to the duty to make reasonable adjustments, taking account the primary objective of the legislation, which is to facilitate the employment of disabled employees on equal terms to non-disabled employees.
The employer must not rely on suggestions made by an employee. The duty to make reasonable adjustments rests with the employer and they must consider carefully what steps might be taken to remove the relevant disadvantage.