Many businesses are coping with a reduced return to the office by decreasing office sizes and introducing hotdesking policies. This can decrease costs to the business. In theory, the office will be less cluttered and staff will engage and communicate more with a different range of colleagues.
There are things that employers need to consider before such policies are put into place. There is a potential for discrimination issues to arise.
The case of Baker v House of Commons Commission is an example of this.
The Claimant was a data manager who was employed from 1991. She suffered from a musculoskeletal condition. To assist with this she was provided with an orthopaedic chair, specialist mouse and keyboard, and a reading slope. These adjustments helped to reduce her pain.
After the Claimant returned to work after a period of sickness absence, she found that this equipment had been moved and dramatically altered. These changes were difficult for the Claimant to undo and as a result the equipment was not effective in alleviating her pain. The explanation for doing this was that there was a hotdesking policy in place and it was not practical to reserve a desk for an extended period of time.
An occupational health report which was commissioned agreed with the Claimant that her desk should not be used as a hot desk because of the special equipment she required. Before she took a day off work she left a post it note on her desk reminding her colleagues that her chair was reserved for her. When she returned, she noticed that someone had adjusted the settings on her chair.
The Claimant became subject to disciplinary procedures regarding the placing of the note on her desk. Her claim of victimisation, discrimination, and failure to make reasonable adjustments was successful at tribunal. The tribunal held that she was put at a substantial disadvantage because other employees had adjusted equipment that was tailored to her needs in order to prevent injury and discomfort. It went on to say “this exposed her to risk of injury. This was more than a minor disadvantage”.
Employers need to be mindful of these issues when imposing blanket policies such as hotdesking. In any such situation it may be necessary for exceptions to be made and these issues must be looked at thoroughly before such a policy is put in place. Issues of discrimination need to be taken seriously and dealt with sensitively.
If you have any questions on any of the issues mentioned in the above article, please contact Natalia Milne.