Employers must be aware of responsibility to staff under Disability Discrimination Act

12 September 2017

In the recent decision of Marie-Claire McLaughlin v Charles Hurst NI IT 83/15 & 1356/15, the Industrial Tribunal reiterated the importance of employers being aware of their responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995; especially the need to make reasonable adjustments to assist employees with any disability.

Employers must be aware of responsibility to staff under Disability Discrimination Act

The Claimant was Ms. Marie- Claire McLaughlin. She was an employee with Charles Hurst, the Respondent, for in or about five years. Ms. McLaughlin had a history of mental health issues and depression. For the purpose of the claim, Charles Hurst accepted she was legally disabled.  

Ms. McLaughlin took a number of claims against her employer which were all dismissed, apart from one -that Charles Hurst failed in their duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Ms. McLaughlin suffered physical symptoms at work; such as light headedness, dizziness and panic attacks. Due to this, she put in a request to reduce her working hours. Charles Hurst took fourteen months to finally put in a suitable alternative for her. In the interim they had offered two solutions but these did not adequately remove any disadvantage she suffered as a result of her disability.

The Tribunal therefore upheld the allegation that Charles Hurst failed to make reasonable adjustments under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. They stated that Ms. McLaughlin’s employers are a “large company and substantial employer – through its managers who gave evidence – showed a distinct lack of awareness boarding on abysmal ignorance of the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the obligations which an employer has under that legislation, and a lack of awareness of its practical applications.”

The Court determined that the request took far too long to process and that it was dealt with incorrectly:

“Her request for reduced hours was not considered in an appropriate manner. It was consistently dealt with as an application for flexible working, with an emphasis on the needs of the business. There was little or no focus on the needs of the Claimant.”

There were notes from Occupational Health that recommended reduced working hours and the Tribunal noted that, “medical evidence should have been acted upon.” It determined that Charles Hurst breached their duty to Ms. McLaughlin by failing to deal with the request correctly and in a sufficient time frame.

The Tribunal held that; “the treatment which the Claimant received at work… inevitably compounded and exacerbated to a serious degree any pre-existing condition.”

The Tribunal ordered Charles Hurst to pay Ms. McLaughlin the sum of £11,500, to include interest, in respect of injury to feelings and psychiatric injury.

Niall McMullan is an Associate Partner in the Employment Law department of Worthingtons solicitors and can be contacted on 02890434015.

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