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What is a ‘reasonable’ adjustment?

08 July 2010

The Disability Discrimination Act is a difficult piece of legislation for employers. It imposes a duty on them to make ‘reasonable’ adjustments to premises or working practices so as to allow disabled employees to stay in work. Willans reports on a recent ruling in which the EAT placed some practical and sensible limits on what is considered reasonable.

The Case

  • The claimant in the case, Mrs Wilson, worked as an administrator on a scheme run by Job Centre Plus. She suffered from agoraphobia and panic attacks and so had been given a role that involved minimal contact with the public. Her condition made it difficult for her to leave home on her own but the office was only some 100 yards away so she was able to manage the journey.
  • When the scheme came to an end and the office was closed in 2006, Mrs Wilson asked to work from home. After due investigation, the employer decided it was not a feasible option for someone working at her level. They explored a range of possibilities, such as Mrs Wilson being accompanied to and from work by a colleague, paying for taxis and engaging a support worker for her. She refused, saying that home working was the only way in which she would be able to work.
  • Some two years later, she was dismissed for capability due to her disability-related sickness absence. Her disability discrimination claim succeeded in the first employment tribunal.
  • However at appeal, the EAT said that the adjustments proposed by the employer were reasonable in the circumstances. Even had they agreed to home-working, it would not have resolved Mrs Wilson’s disadvantage because the work could not be effectively done from home. It was also impracticable because her job involved direct customer contact with confidential public information. They were, therefore, right to consider home-working to be an unreasonable adjustment.

Comments

In such situations, the correct approach for the employer is a careful consideration of exactly what it is the employee complains of and exactly how that difficulty can be alleviated. Will the adjustment overcome the disadvantage faced by that worker? If it would, then to what extent is it practicable for the employer to make the adjustment the worker has requested.

What is clear is that it is not a matter of the disabled employee picking and choosing what adjustments they would like, but rather whether those adjustments are indeed appropriate and effective and whether it is practicable for the employer to carry them out.

 

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