Tech Company Failed to Make Reasonable Adjustments for Cancer Sufferer

Corporate reorganisations arising from a change in ownership very often result in a need to reduce staff numbers. However, as one case showed, it is vital to conduct redundancy exercises fairly and openly and with careful regard to the particular needs of employees who are disabled or have other protected characteristics (Richards v Brocade Communications UK Ltd).

The case concerned a senior manager of a technology company in his late 50s who had for a number of years been suffering from renal cancer. There was no dispute that he was disabled. The private medical insurance cover provided to him as a benefit of his employment was vital to the speed and continuity of his care.

After the company received an acquisition offer, it embarked on a major realignment of its business. The man was selected for redundancy following completion of the takeover. Thereafter, he could not afford his own private medical cover. Longer waiting times for treatment and reduced continuity of care caused him increased pain and had a significant impact on his quality of life and overall health.

After he launched proceedings, an Employment Tribunal (ET) found that there was a failure to make reasonable adjustments to cater for his disability. Given his condition, the loss of his private medical insurance meant that redundancy was a substantially greater disadvantage to him than it was to non-disabled colleagues. The company had not turned its mind to his disability and had wholly failed to consider whether adjustments needed to be made to avoid that disadvantage.

The realignment process resulted in him being placed in a part of the business that would have no identified role following the acquisition. As a result, the consultation process that preceded his redundancy was, from his point of view, meaningless in that his fate was by then already sealed. The ET found that the consultation process came too late and there was no real attempt to avoid making him redundant.

There was no consultation during the realignment process and no transparent or objective redundancy selection criteria were adopted at that determinative stage. He was not offered a modified or new role within the business and the process leading to his dismissal was discriminatory. His dismissal was also unfair in that it fell outside the range of reasonable responses open to his employer. If not agreed, the amount of his compensation would be assessed at a further hearing.