No unfavourable treatment due to disability based on employee's mistaken belief


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The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has held in iForce Ltd v Wood that an employee's mistaken belief that moving workstations would exacerbate her osteoarthritis did not establish unfavourable treatment because of something arising from a disability under section 15 of the Equality Act 2010.

The claimant worked for iForce Ltd (IF Ltd) at one of its warehouses, packing items at a fixed workbench. She had osteoarthritis (a disability) which worsened in cold, damp weather. When working practices were changed so that the claimant would be required to move between benches and "follow the work", she refused as she believed that the end-benches nearest the loading doors would be colder and damper and would exacerbate her osteoarthritis. It turned out that this belief was incorrect as IF Ltd's investigations showed that there was no material difference in temperature and humidity throughout the warehouse. The claimant was issued with a final written warning and subsequently brought tribunal proceedings complaining that she had been treated unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of her disability.

Although the tribunal upheld the claimant's claim, the EAT disagreed, holding that there had to be a causal connection between the "something" (here the refusal to work at benches near the loading doors) and the disability. There was no connection here, and the claimant was mistaken in her belief that the conditions would be colder and damper and therefore affect her disability.

Take note: The decision in Wood makes it clear that there must be a connection between whatever led to the unfavourable treatment and the disability. This is an objective test so it will be up to the employee to demonstrate that there is an actual causal link between the disability and the "something" in question. A perceived connection will not suffice.

This article is taken from HR Law - April 2019.

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