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Employment Law Case Update: Proctor v Haxby Group Practice and Mr McEvoy

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Making reasonable adjustments is important not only for employees but also for employers to ensure they provide equal opportunities for all candidates and members of staff.  Our Employment team today review a case discussing this topic; Proctor v Haxby Group Practice and Mr McEvoy.

Mrs Proctor worked for Haxby Group Practice from September 1994 as a Clerical Assistant before progressing to Data Quality Systems Manager. With carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive strain injury affecting her arms and wrists, she was classed as a disabled person within the Equality Act 2010 .  

Mrs Proctor’s disability led to long-term periods of absence in 1997, 2001 and 2007. She was referred to Occupational Health in June 1998 and a report was produced which referred to Mrs Proctor’s symptoms worsening, stating there was a likelihood her symptoms would reoccur if she returned to her contracted hours and duties. The report recommended she spent less time on keyboard activities and stated it was unlikely that she would return to work spending her day solely on data inputting without a variation of tasks. A further report in May 2001 suggested she was fit to undertake that contracted role, referring to a long period when she was free of symptoms.

Mrs Proctor had a period of sickness absence in March 2015 relating to her disability, where she requested an Occupational Health assessment be carried out after she experienced pain in both hands and arms when typing. Occupational Health recommended she should reduce the amount of time she was typing in order to reduce her symptoms and in May 2015, wrote to Mrs Proctor, suggesting that voice recognition software and a shorter keyboard should be used. The keyboard was ordered and ready to use from October 2015.

Realising the instrumental role the voice recognition software would play in her role; Mrs Proctor researched the system and gained a quote, which was referred to senior management.

Mrs Proctor was absent from work due to her illness from June 2015 until January 2016. During this time, Mrs Proctor asked for an update on the voice recognition system, to which Mr McEvoy, a partner at the practice, stated that he was happy to explore the option of training on the software, but that they would resume once Mrs Proctor returned to work.  Mrs Proctor attended a return to work meeting in January 2016, where no steps had been taken to acquire the voice recognition software. A DSE (Display Screen Equipment) assessment was carried out in February 2016, where it was stated that sourcing voice recognition would be helpful.

Mrs Proctor was given the role of Research Manager in October 2016; and the practice ordered the voice recognition software and installed it in January 2017.

Mrs Proctor raised a grievance in June 2017, stating that her practice had failed to make reasonable adjustments from April 2015 through to May 2017, when there were issues with installing appropriate software to assist in her role. She also mentioned that Mr McEvoy expected Mrs Proctor to take notes at meetings regarding her sickness absence when she was physically unable to do so. A grievance meeting took place in July 2017 and letter was issued that month to organise another meeting, stating that Mrs Proctor’s grievance was not well founded. Mrs Proctor appealed the decision in August, and submitted her termination of employment.

The Employment Tribunal (ET) found the practice failed to comply with its duty to make reasonable adjustments due to the delay in successfully implementing the voice recognition system; Mrs Proctor’s duties hadn’t been adjusted to spend less time performing computer based tasks, and she wasn’t excused from taking minutes at meetings.  The ET ruled that Mrs Proctor’s resignation amounted to dismissal as a result of disability discrimination.

This case underlines the importance of employers exercising the duty to ensure reasonable adjustments are made for disabled employees in a timely manner.

If you have questions regarding making reasonable adjustments for an employee, you can contact the Employment team today on 023 8071 7717 or email employment@warnergoodman.co.uk

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.