An employment tribunal in December 2022 ruled unanimously that an employee working as a disabled employability advisor had been unfairly dismissed for requesting a suitable work chair for them to use at home.
Justin Griffiths claimed that he had been ‘discriminated against because of a protected characteristic, namely disability’. The tribunal heard that Mr Griffiths had a number of illnesses and impairments, two of which, asthma and osteoarthritis of the knee, are considered as disabilities under the provisions of the Equality Act 2010.
Mr Griffiths commenced his employment with Dimension Training Solutions (DTS) in February 2020 where his duties included advising others on workplace adjustments due to disability. While DTS conceded that Mr Griffiths was disabled at the relevant times, they had otherwise refuted his claim of discrimination on the basis of disability.
The tribunal found that DTS had failed to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ as required under the Equality Act 2010 placing Mr Griffiths at a ‘substantial disadvantage’ in comparison with non-disabled employees.
In March 2020, during the first COVID-19 lockdown, DTS ordered all of its employees to work remotely and requested that their employees undertake a home working risk assessment. Mr Griffiths home working risk assessment revealed that reasonable adjustments were required as he could not perform his work activities in a comfortable manner while sitting at his dining room table, seated on a dining room chair.
The tribunal heard that Mr Griffiths was asked to attend the offices of DTS to collect a suitable work chair for use at home. However, since Mr Griffiths was shielding he was unable to travel to the office to collect the chair. The tribunal noted that DTS took no further action to provide a chair, leaving Mr Griffiths to continue using his dining room chair.
In August and September 2020, Mr Griffiths raised a grievance against DTS, he also sought advice from ACAS on October 14th 2020 before submitting a formal written request for reasonable adjustments to DTS’ group HR manager.
On October 15th 2020 a director for DTS contacted Mr Griffiths by telephone whereby he was summarily dismissed.
While DTS provided Mr Griffiths with one month’s pay in lieu of notice, and his accrued holiday entitlement, they failed to respond to his request for a written explanation as to the decision behind his dismissal. DTS also failed to process Mr Griffiths appeal against his dismissal.
The tribunal noted that DTS’ action appeared to be because Mr Griffiths ‘had requested adjustments to address his disabilities, in circumstances where the claimant’s role with the respondent was to advise people on exactly those issues’.
In announcing the tribunal’s ruling on 12th December 2022 the judge concluded that Mr Griffiths requirement to shield during the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with his need for ‘reasonable adjustments to work from home, all arose in direct consequence of his disability’.
The tribunal found three elements of unfavourable treatment:
- That DTS had required Mr Griffiths to attend their office to collect a chair when he was shielding and therefore unable to do so;
- That DTS then dismissed Mr Griffiths after his formal request for reasonable adjustment.
- And, that DTS ignored Mr Griffiths request for a written reason for his dismissal and ignored his request to pursue an appeal against his dismissal.
DTS, which entered Voluntary Creditors’ Liquidation on 26th July 2022, did not attend the remote hearing and made no attempt to raise a ‘defence of justification’.
Mr Griffiths was awarded £11,062.50 for loss of earnings, with an additional £15,000 awarded for injury to his feelings.
It is imperative that employers not only undertake risk assessments for all employees who work from home, but act on the findings of these to ensure that they are in compliance with their legal obligations – both health and safety and those under the Equality Act.
If you have any questions on any of the issues raised in the above article, please contact Gary Foggo.