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How far must employers go to make adjustments for the disabled?

Posted: 12th February 2015   In: Business Employment

The disabled are given wide ranging protection in the workplace under the Equality Act 2010.

Employers are obliged to make reasonable adjustments to cater for disabled employees and disabled job applicants. This raises the question of what constitutes a reasonable adjustment.

A recent case before the Employment Appeal Tribunal provided some useful guidance.

It involved an employee called Mrs Dyer who worked for London Ambulance NHS Trust. She answered 999 calls in the control room. The room was very busy and was used by several staff and members of the public.

Mrs Dyer began to suffer severe reactions to an aerosol body spray. She experienced chest pains, shortness of breath and broke out in sweats. Over a period of two years, she suffered five serious incidents as a result of exposure to aerosol spray. The final incident involved what was described as a near death experience. It led to her being hospitalised for four days.

The Trust took medical advice and concluded that there were no steps it could reasonably be expected to take to accommodate Mrs Dyer. She was dismissed on the grounds of capability.

She responded by bringing claims for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination. She said the Trust should have taken steps to prevent people using sprays and perfumes in the area where she worked.

The case reached the Employment Appeal Tribunal, which ruled against her. It held that there was no reasonable adjustment that could have been made. Given the size of the control room, the number of employees working there and the number of people who passed though, it would not be possible to create an aerosol-free zone.

Although the employee lost this case, it should be remembered that it is unusual for a tribunal to find that no reasonable adjustment could have been made. Each case will be decided on the individual circumstances.

For example, the employment tribunal pointed out that had Mrs Dyer worked in a much smaller office with less public access, it might have been possible to advise her colleagues not to use the sprays that caused the problems.

Please contact John Carter if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law.