Disability discrimination and reasonable adjustments
Employers can also learn lessons from this case from an HR and employment law perspective. Given the employee in this case suffered from epilepsy, he met the definition of being "disabled" under the Equality Act 2010 (EA2010).
The EA2010 prohibits several forms of discrimination against disabled employees. It also imposes a positive duty on employers to make "reasonable adjustments" for disabled employees, in certain circumstances. Where the duty arises, the employer must effectively treat the disabled person more favourably than others to reduce or remove that individual's disadvantage.
The duty can arise where a disabled person is placed at a substantial disadvantage by:
- An employer's provision, criterion or practice.
- A physical feature of the employer's premises.
- An employer's failure to provide an auxiliary aid.
In this case, the employee was clearly placed at a substantial disadvantage (i.e., increased and unreasonable risk of serious injury or death) by a physical feature of the employer's premises, which here was a staircase to a first-floor locker he used.
An employer will not be obliged to make reasonable adjustments unless it "knows or ought reasonably to know" that the individual in question is disabled. In this case, the employee's mother had informed his managers of the risk posed by the staircase he was using.
A classic example of a reasonable adjustment would be an adjustment to the employer's physical premises, in order to remove the substantial disadvantage. Here, the employee's locker was at the top of a staircase, which the employer knew was a problem for him, because of his epilepsy. A reasonable adjustment in these circumstances (as posed by the prosecuting lawyer in this case) would involve simply moving the employee's locker from the first floor to the ground floor, to prevent him from having to use stairs to access it.