Reasonable adjustments must aid employee

Opinion

Reasonable adjustments must aid employee

Businesses with employees on sick leave or who need some form of rehabilitation to come back to work ought to take note of the case of Salford NHS Primary Care Trust v Smith. This case confirmed that offering a career break does not constitute a 'reasonable adjustment' for the purposes of disability discrimination law and neither does suggesting 'light work' for rehabilitative non-productive work.

Mrs S was a Trust employee on long term sick leave.  A year after she was signed off, the Trust suggested that she should either start a phased return to work which would involve 2 - 3 hours of 'light work' over two mornings per week, or that she should take a 'career break' - which would 'protect her employment' and allow her the 'space' she needed to recover.

Ms S lost confidence in the Trust and after missing two scheduled meetings, tendered her resignation.  Shortly afterwards she brought a tribunal claim on the basis that the Trust had failed to make reasonable adjustments.

The tribunal held that a career break would not have been a reasonable adjustment.  The Trust appealed.  The EAT agreed with the Tribunal saying that the proposed career break would have resulted in Mrs S losing her sickness benefits and would have frustrated the possibility of retirement on the grounds of ill health.

As far as undertaking 'light work' on a part time basis, because the light duties were not reflective of Mrs S's typical workload, undertaking this work would not in itself facilitate her return to work.

This was first published in September 2011

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