Are Adjustments that Disadvantage Non-Disabled Employees Reasonable?

Are employers obliged to make reasonable adjustments to cater for the particular needs of disabled employees where to do so would cause disadvantage to their non-disabled colleagues? That issue was addressed by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in a guideline ruling (Hilaire v Luton Borough Council).

The case concerned a local authority employee who was disabled by depression, a condition that affected his memory, concentration and social interactions. He was faced with redundancy as a result of a restructuring exercise. He and 13 colleagues, who were also at risk of redundancy, were invited to attend interviews for alternative positions in the new structure.

The man argued before an Employment Tribunal (ET) that, because of his disability, the requirement to undergo an interview placed him at a disadvantage when compared with non-disabled colleagues. His claim that his employer had failed in its obligation to make reasonable adjustments in order to alleviate that disadvantage was, however, rejected.

Challenging that outcome, he contended, amongst other things, that the employer should have waived the interview requirement in his case and slotted him into an alternative position. In dismissing his appeal, however, the EAT noted that such a step, whilst alleviating his disadvantage, would have impacted on colleagues who were also taking part in the redundancy selection process.

Making a reasonable adjustment, the EAT observed, is not a vehicle for giving an advantage over and above removing a particular disadvantage arising from a disability. The ET was entitled to conclude that slotting him into a new position was not a reasonable step that the employer was required to take.

The EAT acknowledged that his disability would have at least hindered his effective participation in an interview. However, the ET justifiably found that he would not have attended an interview in any event, having lost all confidence in the employer. His non-attendance was a matter of choice and thus did not relate to his disability.