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Making reasonable adjustments within a reasonable timescale

A recent employment tribunal decision highlights the fact that a delay in making a reasonable adjustment for a disabled employee can be discriminatory, even if the employer does ultimately make the adjustment.

Mr Duckworth worked for British Airways as a member of its Worldwide fleet cabin crew, operating on long-haul flights. He suffered from diabetes complicated by coeliac disease and in October 2010 became ill during a long haul flight and was “grounded” from flying duties pending medical advice (which led to a reduction in his income).

In July 2011, BA’s Occupational Health department advised that Mr Duckworth was fit for short haul flights. However, his transfer request to Eurofleet was rejected on the basis that there was not enough work for him to do and because the transfer would not serve as a rehabilitation plan for his return to the Worldwide fleet.

Mr Duckworth raised a grievance (claiming that he was disabled and that a transfer to short haul was a reasonable adjustment) and later lodged a claim for disability discrimination. Following this, his transfer was reconsidered, he was placed on the transfer list and in March 2012 he was informed that his transfer had been accepted. He returned to flying duties with Eurofleet in May 2012.

The tribunal decided that transferring Mr Duckworth to short haul was a reasonable adjustment which BA should have made from the point at which Occupational Health passed him as fit for short haul flying duties. Taking into account that there would have been some administrative delay, this should have been done by September 2011. Whilst the adjustment was eventually made, the tribunal held that BA did not comply with the duty within a reasonable timescale. The unreasonable delay amounted to a failure to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act and Mr Duckworth was awarded £8,500 compensation.

This decision highlights the importance of making reasonable adjustments within a reasonable timescale and is a reminder to employers to ensure that managers are appropriately trained to recognise cases which might trigger the duty to make reasonable adjustments.

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