Employment tribunal and court judgments | December 2022

GP receptionist suffered disability discrimination because her surgery did not facilitate remote working

In T Keown v Dr A Sarajlic T/a Staines Road Surgery, the Employment Tribunal (ET) held that a GP receptionist whose disability placed her as 'high-risk' during the pandemic was discriminated against when she was refused homeworking.

The receptionist joined the surgery before the pandemic and in March 2020, as the receptionist had a heart condition (amounting to a disability under the Equality Act), she advised the practice manager she was obtaining advice on whether she needed to self-isolate during the pandemic. The surgery were aware of her ongoing heart complaint that would deem the receptionist as 'high-risk' in contracting COVID-19. In March the receptionist left the surgery and has not returned to work since, as the surgery did not facilitate remote working. As such, she brought claims for a failure to make reasonable adjustments, disability discrimination, health and safety detriment and unpaid holiday pay.

The ET held that while the surgery failed to perform a risk assessment for the receptionist despite guidance advising to carry one out to establish any reasonable adjustments, this itself was not a failure to make reasonable adjustments. The surgery’s argument that the receptionist couldn’t work from home because she also performed certain tasks, like chaperoning patients and performing CPR, was thrown out since cross examination revealed she never performed such tasks. Although the surgery took some steps to facilitate home working, they did not fully implement them; for instance, the receptionist was not provided with a laptop and diverted telephone calls to her home. There were reasonable steps that could have been taken – it was not unpractical for a receptionist to work from home. The receptionist was put to a substantial disadvantage compared to a non-disabled person. The ET upheld all claims except for the unlawful deduction of wages: the surgery was ordered to pay the receptionist £45,000.