The Equality Act 2010 protects employees with a long term mental or physical impairment from being discriminated against at work. This includes a requirement that employers should consider making “reasonable adjustments” to an employee’s role in order to allow them to continue to work. There is no single definition of a “reasonable adjustment” but, in a recent case, the tribunal was asked to decide whether or not an employer could unilaterally impose what it considered to be a “reasonable adjustment” on to an employee without his or her consent.
Mr Powell worked for G4S Cash Solutions (UK) Limited (“G4S”). He was originally employed as an engineer with responsibility for maintaining ATMs in central London. Unfortunately, by mid-2012, he was unable to do heavy lifting or work in confined spaces due to back problems and was absent from work in the summer of 2012 due to sick leave. On his return to work, Mr Powell began working in a new role, that of “key runner”. This involved him delivering parts from G4S’ depot to ATM engineers. He continued to receive his original salary even though the new role did not require engineering skills.
In May 2013, G4S decided it no longer needed a key runner. It informed Mr Powell of its decision, stating that the key runner role was not permanent and giving him with a list of alternative vacancies to consider. Mr Powell was also informed that if nothing suitable could be found, he may be dismissed on medical grounds. Mr Powell raised a grievance alleging that G4S were trying to change his terms and conditions. In response, the company decided it did need a key runner but at a lower rate of pay. This would have meant Mr Powell taking a 10% pay reduction. Mr Powell refused to agree to the reduced pay and was dismissed on 8 October 2013.
The case went to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) which concluded that:-
Although the latter point will cause concern to many employers, this does not automatically mean that it will always be reasonable to protect an employee’s pay if they agree to undertake an alternative role. The fundamental purpose of making reasonable adjustments is to enable the employee to continue working in their original role but clearly all other alternatives should be explored as well. The nature and size of the employer will be taken into account when determining what is “reasonable”. What is reasonable for a company such as G4S may not be reasonable for a company employing ten employees.
If you have any questions about the disability discrimination legislation or any aspect of employment law, please do not hesitate to contact Debbie Sadler at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0118 955 9607.
Published on 06/09/2016