EAT holds that neither offering a disabled employee a career break, nor submitting suggestions to her GP as to possible rehabilitative work arrangements, constituted “reasonable adjustments” for the purposes of the Disability Discrimination Act.

Having reviewed the relevant sections of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (“the DDA”), the EAT in this case stressed that “reasonable adjustments are limited to those that prevent the [provision, criterion or practice (“PCP”)] or feature from placing the disabled person concerned at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with persons who are not disabled”. Further, they are “primarily concerned with enabling the disabled person to remain or return to work”.

The EAT identified the PCP in this case as being the expectation that the Claimant perform her full role within her contracted hours. Her disability had prevented her from doing so and therefore placed her at a substantial disadvantage. However, the obligation to make “reasonable adjustments” only applies to adjustments that might have the effect of alleviating the substantial disadvantage. The offer of a career break, and the submission of proposals for “light duties” to the Claimant’s GP (in circumstances where the GP had indicated that no return in any form was suitable), were not capable of alleviating the disadvantage, and so did not amount to reasonable adjustments. Therefore the employer was under no obligation to offer them.

Implications

This is a helpful decision for employers in that it sets out the limits to the duty to make reasonable adjustments. The legislation relating to reasonable adjustments is largely unchanged in the Equality Act 2010 and so this case will have potential relevance to cases heard under the new legislation.

The case illustrates that all steps in the process of getting an employee back to work, however reasonable or beneficial, do not necessarily constitute a “reasonable adjustment”. When considering whether a step constitutes an obligatory reasonable adjustment, employers must identity the substantial disadvantage suffered by the employee and ask whether the adjustment would alleviate it.

The EAT appeared to look favourably on the employer Trust in this case. It referred in its judgment to the Employment Tribunal’s finding that the employer “did not have a closed mind” and that it “did what an employer should have done, and explored retraining the Claimant in IT (something which she was unwilling to undertake).” The evidence of lengthy and detailed consideration given by the employer is likely to have influenced the EAT’s finding that it had discharged its duty to consider, and where possible make, reasonable adjustments.