UK: Disability Discrimination – Reasonable Adjustments
Ms Aleem, a science teacher, could not continue in her teaching role due to a mental health condition but could work as a cover supervisor, a position with a lower rate of pay. The school continued to pay Ms Aleem at the teacher pay rate temporarily, while she tried the cover supervisor role for a three-month probation period and then until her internal grievance had run its course. After the Occupational Health advice indicated that she remained long-term unfit to return to her teaching role but could carry out the supervisor role, she accepted an offer to continue in the supervisor role at the applicable lower rate of pay. However, she subsequently brought a claim for failure to make reasonable adjustments.
An employment tribunal dismissed the reasonable adjustments claim, finding that it was not a failure to comply with the duty to make reasonable adjustments by not continuing to pay Ms Aleem at the higher rate of pay.
The EAT dismissed her appeal. It found that it was a reasonable adjustment to maintain the higher rate of pay during the probation and return to work processes in order to support her return to work, but these considerations subsequently ceased to apply. The EAT noted that the tribunal had taken into account that the employer was facing financial pressures at the time when concluding that the salary adjustment was not reasonable.
Key Action Points for Human Resources and In-house Counsel
This decision demonstrates that salary may not always need to be protected indefinitely where an employee moves into a different role attracting lower pay – but it will depend on the circumstances. In this case, it is notable that there was a clear point at which a line could be drawn – and the salary adjustment could therefore be stopped (on completion of the probation period, the return to work process and the grievance process) – and the employer, which was publicly funded, was facing financial pressures.