Two cases this month looked at the impact of the application of provisions, criteria or practices ("PCPs") in the workplace and employers’ duties to make reasonable adjustments.
The first, Roberts v North West Ambulance Service, related to an ambulance dispatcher who suffered social anxiety disorder. He worked shifts, and the employer operated a "hot-desking" system in the room where he worked. After sitting at a desk in the middle of the room, Mr Roberts decided that this may exacerbate his condition. He therefore moved to a desk at the edge of the room, and asked that he should always work there. Although the employer agreed in principle, the practical steps they took did not guarantee this would always happen, and the shift patterns made if difficult to ensure that he should have the same desk all the time.
An employment tribunal held that there was no discrimination under the predecessor to the Equality Act 2010, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, because the PCPs were not applied to the disabled person – i.e. Mr Roberts, whom the Ambulance Service had agreed could have a particular desk. The Employment Appeal Tribunal considered that this was an incorrect approach to the law.
There was no need for the employment tribunal to consider whether PCPs are applied to a specific disabled person; as the EAT pointed out:
There will, we think, sometimes be cases where PCPs which are applied to others at work place the disabled person at a substantial disadvantage even if they are not applied directly to the disabled person.
In this case, it was arguable that the PCPs applicable to hot-desking, which were applied to others, put Mr Roberts at a substantial disadvantage due to his disability. The Employment Appeal Tribunal returned the case to the tribunal to decide whether, taking into account the available medical evidence, making sure that Mr Roberts was able to work at the same desk at all times was a reasonable adjustment the employer was obliged to make.