Employment tribunal warns of failure to make reasonable adjustments
An NHS receptionist who developed a phobia of working with the public and was refused work in the back office by her manager was unfairly dismissed, a tribunal has ruled. The employee was awarded more than £56,000 after Croydon Health Services NHS Trust (CHS) dismissed her from her role as a receptionist when she told occupational health (OH) that she was “petrified” of the general public.
The judge found that the trust contravened the Equality Act when it failed to make reasonable adjustments for D’Silva, and that she was unfairly dismissed. The employer had a duty to make reasonable adjustments or to take reasonable steps to investigate alternative work and consider redeployment and failed to do this.
The tribunal heard that the employee who suffered from stress and anxiety, worked at CHS as a receptionist for 18 years until her dismissal. Following a period of long-term absence for a stress-related problem, she returned to work to a a restructure and was required to deal with up to 100 patients a day at reception.
Following a stress risk assessment, D’Silva agreed with her new manager that she should have a phased return to work. After several failed attempts to return and to undertake alternative duties she was signed off sick again.
While still signed off sick, she saw occupational health which reported she remained “strongly of the view” that she wanted to return to work but was “absolutely petrified” of working in a patient-facing role and suggested, as a reasonable adjustment, that she should be removed from patient-facing duties and redeployed to a non-patient-facing role.
However, an absence review concluded there was “no outlook” for the employee to return and that her levels of sickness had been “unreasonably high”. She was dismissed with notice on grounds of capability due to ill-health, but was told any opportunities of redeployment would be considered. An appeal was unsuccessful.
The tribunal awarded her £6,780.54 compensation for unfair dismissal and £49,904 in compensation for contravention of the Equality Act 2010. The employer’s failure to proactively offer suitable redeployment roles amounted to a failure to make reasonable adjustments. It is the employer’s duty to make any reasonable adjustments, and not the employee’s responsibility to come up with suggestions of adjustments. This is particularly the case for large employers.