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Employment Law Case Update: Disability Discrimination

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As an employer at some point you may have an employee bring an issue to you that requires you to make reasonable adjustments. It is important to note that this responsibility is triggered as soon as an employee informs management of any sort of mental or physical impairment that is causing them a disadvantage, and does not need a medical note confirming a diagnosis.

The case of Mr J Bulloss v Shelter, The National Campaign for Homeless People Ltd is a prime example of what happens if a business fails to make reasonable adjustments to allow him to do his job.

Mr Bulloss worked as an adviser for Shelter, a homelessness charity. His role initially required shift work to cover the phones during evenings and Saturdays. In May 2017, Mr Bulloss asked if he could join the new webchat team, which would provide similar advice over an instant messaging service. The candidates were warned that if they failed the 4 week trial period they would be returning to telephone queries only.

Mr Bulloss was dyslexic and as a result made a series of spelling and grammatical errors in his webchats during the first 3 weeks. He had also been ‘free typing’ rather than using the ‘shortcuts’,  which is a library of pre-prepared paragraphs to help achieve consistency of advice and response. These were flagged by his manager and after giving him a week to improve, he was moved back to telephone-only work.

He left work the same day, and provided a sick note the following day which said he was not fit for work due to anxiety. Mr Bulloss returned to work a month later on 25th September and informed Shelter that he had been given a dyslexia diagnosis during his leave. He requested a phased return to work and adjustments, which was granted. But on 4th October, Mr Bulloss informed HR he was not feeling well and thought the phased return to work might not be working. He asked if his dyslexia was the reason he could not return to the webchat team. HR replied by email saying that no adjustments were made because there was no diagnosis for dyslexia at the time and the option to move back to webchat “was not something [Shelter] would consider”. HR had also emailed the Union Representative asking ““Why would [Shelter] invest money for reasonable adjustments that are not necessary because his dyslexia does not affect his ability to perform effectively on the phone?”

Mr Bulloss resigned on 24th October saying he did not believe Shelter dealt with issues affecting him “relating to discrimination appropriately, legally or with regard for my wellbeing”. He then brought claims of disability discrimination, failure to make reasonable adjustments, victimisation and unfair dismissal to an Employment Tribunal (ET) on 16th November.

The ET ruled that Mr Bulloss had been unfairly dismissed, discriminated against due to his disability, and harassed by his former employer and was awarded £28,324.  

Judge Robert Little said Mr Bulloss had valid reasons for wanting to progress to webchat work.

He also noted “While the employer had discretion to deploy the claimant where it thought fit, it is clear from the internal correspondence… that the respondent wished to avoid its duty by simply returning the claimant to voice work.”

This case is a reminder to employers that the duty to make reasonable adjustments will exist even if an employee does not have a medical diagnosis. Where an employee has told their manager that they are facing disadvantages due to a physical or mental impairment, this automatically triggers the duty to make reasonable workplace adjustments to address the disadvantages.

If you have any questions on making reasonable adjustments for an employee, please contact the Employment team on 023 8071 7717 or email them at employment@warnergoodman.co.uk

This was previously part of our weekly Employment Law Newsletter. If you would like to subscribe, please email us at events@warnergoodman.co.uk or click here for the subscription form.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.