Monday 1st April 2019
The EAT, in iForce Limited v Wood, has held that a warning given to an employee following her refusal to obey an instruction, due to a mistaken belief that changes to her working conditions would exacerbate her disability, did not amount to unfavourable treatment because of something arising from a disability.
Ms Wood was employed as a Warehouse Colleague. Seeking to increase productivity, iForce changed its working practices. Whereas previously Ms Wood had remained at one bench and the work was delivered to her, the changes required her to follow the work. Ms Wood refused to work at the end benches nearest the bay doors, believing it would result in increased exposure to cold and damp conditions which would exacerbate her osteoarthritis, a condition which qualified as a disability under the Equality Act.
iForce investigated and found there was no material difference between the end benches and the other benches. Ms Wood’s continued refusal resulted in disciplinary proceedings and a final written warning, which was downgraded on appeal to a written warning.
The ET upheld Ms Wood’s claim that she had been subjected to unfavourable treatment because of something arising out of her disability.
The EAT allowed iForce’s appeal. Although a broad approach was required, in Ms Wood’s case there was an insufficient causal connection between her refusal to work near the doors and her disability. The ET had accepted evidence which showed that Ms Wood was mistaken in her belief and had failed to explain how this mistaken belief (which had led to the refusal) had arisen in consequence of her disability. An ET may find that an employee’s judgment was impaired as a result of stress or pain suffered in consequence of a disability, but that was not the case here. As a result, the EAT set aside the ET’s decision.
All information in this update is intended for general guidance only and is not intended to be comprehensive, or to provide legal advice.