Reasonable Adjustments – Ignorance is No Defence

This month sees the 10th anniversary of the Equality Act, which gathered up most of the existing legal obligations to those with protected characteristics. The Act’s requirement for employers to consider reasonable adjustments to assist disabled employees has been considered at length over recent years. In a recent case, an Employment Tribunal (ET) found that a marketing company treated a salesman who was a wheelchair-user as a problem that was best kept out of sight and out of mind (Moan v Optimal Strategix Group Ltd (2020)).

The employee had an impressive background in sales and was recruited by the company a few months after he suffered an accident which left him paraplegic. Difficulties in meeting his needs arose almost immediately and he was asked to work from home. The sales team he had been taken on to lead was removed from his control and he was eventually dismissed on the basis that he had failed to meet the requirements of a performance improvement plan (PIP).

After he launched proceedings, the ET noted that at no time had the company sought any medical or occupational health advice on what reasonable adjustments were needed to ensure that he was not disadvantaged. The company appeared to have little idea how to manage a disabled employee and chose to solve the problem by asking him to remain away from the workplace.

In upholding his disability discrimination complaints, the ET found that the company viewed his attendance at the office as a problem almost from the outset. It was not familiar with the duties it owed him as a disabled employee and took no meaningful steps to fill that gap in its knowledge. Nothing at all was done to enable his return to the office and the company had done the precise opposite of, so far as possible, enabling him to work on a level playing field with non-disabled employees. The imposition of the PIP was an artificial device employed to achieve his pre-determined dismissal.

The case is a salutary reminder to employers, especially those without a dedicated HR resource, to take expert advice early on when considering its obligations towards those with disabilities. An early consultation with an occupational health adviser is invaluable in determining what adjustments could be considered, as well as establishing what is not possible for the employer to achieve.

If you would like further advice tailored to your particular circumstances, please contact us.