The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was exempt from having to make reasonable adjustments when disciplining a disabled employee for leaving work early without permission, because it could not have known that the employee’s disability placed him at a disadvantage in this respect.
Mr Alam suffered from symptoms of depression and it was conceded that he was disabled for the purposes of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Alam arrived into work late one morning and asked for permission to leave work early to attend an interview for a second job, which he was anxious to secure because of financial worries. He was refused permission by two managers, but left work early nonetheless. The DWP disciplined him as a result. Alam then asked for a number of issues to be taken into account in mitigation, including his financial difficulties, that he had missed taking his medication that morning and felt agitated and unfit to carry on working. The DWP issued him with a 12-month written warning.
The tribunal found that Alam’s difficulty in asking for permission to leave work early was an effect of his disability and that in issuing the warning, the DWP had failed to make reasonable adjustments.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) disagreed and said that in this case the DWP was exempt from the duty to make reasonable adjustments. The DWP did not know and could not reasonably have been expected to know that his disability placed him at a disadvantage compared to a non-disabled person in relation to suffering difficulties in asking for permission to leave work early.
The EAT also confirmed the test to be applied when considering whether the exemption from the duty to make reasonable adjustments applies.
When deciding whether the duty to make reasonable adjustments applies, the question to ask is: did the employer know or ought it to have known that the employee was disabled and that this was liable to place them at a substantial disadvantage? If not, there is no duty to make adjustments.
In this case, the tribunal had leapt to the (incorrect) conclusion that Alam’s symptoms of depression would have made it difficult for him to ask for permission to leave work.
What you should do
Be aware that this decision does not change the duty to make adjustments.