A remote tribunal has ruled unanimously that an employee dismissed from his position as an employability adviser has been successful in his claims of disability discrimination.
Justin Griffiths had been dismissed by his employer Dimensions Training Solutions (DTS) in October 2020 for requesting a suitable work chair for use at home during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The employability adviser had claimed that he had been 'discriminated against because of a protected characteristic, namely disability'. DTS conceded that Griffiths was disabled at the relevant times, but otherwise had denied his claims.
However, the tribunal found that DTS’ failure to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010 meant that the disabled employability adviser was placed at a 'substantial disadvantage' when compared with non-disabled employees.
Griffiths had started working with DTS, which specialises in the delivery of training, on 10 February 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was emerging. Employed as an employability adviser under a Department for Work and Pensions contract, his duties included advising others on workplace adjustments for disability.
The tribunal heard that the employee had a number of illnesses and impairments. DTS had already conceded that two – asthma and osteoarthritis of the knee, and knee and leg pains that resulted in restricted leg mobility – were disabilities under the provisions of the Equality Act 2010.
Griffiths informed the tribunal that in each case he had suffered from the relevant impairment for more than 12 months. In addition, both impairments, he explained, had a 'substantial adverse effect' on his ability to undertake normal day-to-day activities. This included his mobility and concentration.
The issue came to a head when DTS ordered all of its employees to work remotely during the first COVID-19 lockdown, starting on 23 March 2020.
At the request of DTS, Griffiths undertook a 'working from home risk assessment'. This revealed that the employee would need reasonable adjustments to help him with his impairments. He couldn’t perform his tasks comfortably while sitting at his dining room table seated on a dining room chair.
The tribunal heard that DTS advised Griffiths to attend the company’s Gloucester centre and collect a suitable work chair for use at home. However, since the employee was shielding at the time, he was unable to pick up the chair. The tribunal noted that the business did not take any further action to provide a chair, leaving Griffiths to use his dining room chair.
In August and September 2020, the disabled employability adviser raised a grievance against DTS. He also sought advice from ACAS on 14 October before submitting a formal written request for reasonable adjustments to DTS’ group HR manager.
However, the following day (15 October), DTS’s operational director contacted Griffiths by phone and summarily dismissed him.
Although the business did provide Griffiths with one month’s pay in lieu of notice and his accrued holiday entitlement, DTS failed to respond to his request for written reasons explaining the decision behind his dismissal. The business also failed to process his appeal against dismissal.
The tribunal noted that DTS’ action appeared to be because Griffiths 'had requested adjustments to address his disabilities, in circumstances where the claimant’s role with the respondent was to advise people on exactly those issues'.
Following his dismissal, Griffiths told the tribunal that he had had to seek medical advice. He was prescribed antidepressants and also had some counselling.
In announcing the tribunal’s ruling on 12 December 2022, employment judge N J Roper concluded that Griffiths needed to shield during the COVID-19 pandemic. This combined with his need for 'reasonable adjustments to work from home, all arose in direct consequence of his disability'.
The tribunal found three elements of unfavourable treatment that took place. DTS had required Griffiths to attend the Gloucester centre to collect his chair when he was shielding and unable to do so. The business then dismissed him immediately after his formal request for reasonable adjustments. Finally, it also ignored his request for written reasons for his dismissal and ignored his request to pursue an appeal against the termination of his employment.
DTS, which entered Voluntary Creditors’ Liquidation on 26 July 2022, did not attend the remote hearing and made no attempt to raise a 'defence of justification'.
The tribunal has ordered DTS to award Griffiths £11,062.50 in loss of earnings. In addition, the claimant was awarded £15,000 for injury to his feelings. His total compensation (including £3,558.29 in interest) is £29,620.79.