In Monmouthshire County Council v Harris the EAT had to consider the relevance of an employer's earlier failure to make reasonable adjustments when it subsequently dismissed an employee on long term sickness absence.
The employee had a pattern of working from home that had been agreed as a result of various disabilities. Following a change of manager there seem to have been issues with the claimant working from home, and she went off sick. She was subsequently dismissed, the medical advice indicating that she was unfit to return to work.
The tribunal found that the withdrawal of home working was a failure to make a reasonable adjustment. Although the reasonable adjustments claim was out of time, the tribunal went on to decide that if the adjustment had been made at the outset, the claimant would have been able to return to work and would not have been dismissed. It therefore concluded that the dismissal was discrimination arising from a disability because the decision to dismiss was not justified.
The EAT overturned the decision. By the time of the dismissal the medical evidence confirmed that the claimant was not fit to work, regardless of any adjustment that might have been made for her. The employer had a legitimate aim in dismissing the employee, being to safeguard public funds and alleviate pressure on other employees by enabling it to recruit a replacement member of staff. The tribunal should not have relied purely on the earlier failure to make reasonable adjustments in deciding whether the dismissal was proportionate. It should have recognised that there was no continuing obligation to make reasonable adjustments and that the medical prognosis of a return to work was pessimistic when deciding if dismissal was proportionate.