Disciplinary Discrimination: No discrimination where an employee mistakenly believes that following an instruction would exacerbate her disability

Disciplinary Discrimination: No discrimination where an employee mistakenly believes that following an instruction would exacerbate her disability's Tags

Tags related to this article

Disciplinary Discrimination: No discrimination where an employee mistakenly believes that following an instruction would exacerbate her disability

Published 12 abril 2019

THE FACTS

Ms Wood was employed by iForce Ltd to work in its warehouse. She has osteoarthritis, a disability under the Equality Act 2010. This condition gets worse in cold and damp weather. iForce changed its working practices, and asked Ms Wood to move between benches, “following the work”, rather than remaining at one bench. Ms Wood refused to work at the end-benches near the loading doors because she believed it would be colder and damper there. iForce investigated, and its investigations showed that her belief was wrong: the temperature and humidity levels were not materially different throughout the warehouse. iForce considered that Ms Wood’s refusal to obey the instruction to move between benches was unreasonable and issued her with a final written warning (subsequently downgraded on appeal to a written warning).

Ms Wood claimed that iForce had discriminated against her, treating her unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of her disability.

The employment tribunal upheld her claim. They decided that the warning was unfavourable treatment, and that this arose in consequence of her disability: the warning was given because she refused to comply with an instruction to work on benches near the loading doors, which in turn arose because she believed that it would adversely affect her condition (although this was a mistaken belief).

iForce appealed to the EAT, which allowed the appeal.

The EAT acknowledged that in “arising from” cases, a broad approach applies when establishing whether a causal connection exists between the “something” and the underlying disability. Case law shows that the disability does not have to be the direct cause of the unfavourable treatment, and providing the employer knows of the underlying disability, it does not matter that it does not accept the link between that disability and the employee’s actions. However, there must be some connection between the “something” (here, Ms Woods’s refusal to work at the benches near the loading doors) and the disability. In this case, the connection had not been established. The employment tribunal had not found that Ms Woods was not in fact required to work in colder and damper conditions that might exacerbate her condition: it had found that Ms Woods’s belief that this was the case was mistaken. The employment tribunal had then failed to explain how it had concluded that this erroneous belief arose in consequence of her disability. It might, in other cases, be that case that an employee’s incorrect belief arises as a consequence of a disability. If in this case Ms Woods had been required to agree to work in a colder and damper environment, her refusal based on her perception of how this would impact her health would seem to be something arising in consequence of her disability. However, that was not the facts in this case. The EAT set aside the employment tribunal’s decision.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR EMPLOYERS?

The direction of travel of case law in recent years has been towards a looser causal link between the disability of a claimant and the unfavourable treatment. In this case, there was no basis for finding a causal connection between the employee’s disability and the erroneous belief that had led her to refuse to accept her employer’s instruction. A case which puts a limit on the link between a disability and unfavourable treatment should be welcomed by employers.

iForce Ltd v Wood UKEAT/0167/18

Authors

Ceri Fuller

Ceri Fuller

London - Walbrook

+44 (0)20 7894 6583

Zoë Wigan

Zoë Wigan

London - Walbrook

+44 (0)20 7894 6564

Key Contacts

Ceri Fuller

Ceri Fuller

London - Walbrook

+44 (0)20 7894 6583

Zoë Wigan

Zoë Wigan

London - Walbrook

+44 (0)20 7894 6564

< Back to articles