Scottish Ministers Discriminated Against Disabled Employee By Not Providing Necessary Equipment

In James Blair v The Scottish Ministers, a disabled employee has succeeded with his employment tribunal claim. This came after the Scottish Government failed to make reasonable adjustments and discriminated against him. In this article, we scrutinise what happened and outline the employment tribunal’s judgment.

The Facts in James Blair v The Scottish Ministers

Disability Discrimination Claim Background

James Blair (“The Claimant”) began working as a team leader in the Social Care Workforce Division for the Scottish Ministers (“The Respondent”) on 23 November 2020. Previously, he had worked for the Scottish Legal Aid Board, advising and creating policies as an equalities policy officer.

Due to suffering from various conditions, the claimant’s ability to complete regular daily activities was significantly affected. Among other things, he suffered from spondylitis, a degenerative spinal cord disease, a joint condition known as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and dyslexia. 

Following the rise of Covid, the claimant was forced to begin working from home in March 2020. As a result, in his previous role, the disabled employee received several auxiliary aids to remove any disadvantage at work, including:

  • An ergonomic chair,
  • A large monitor, and
  • A standing-height stool

Disabled Employee Commences Social Care Work

Before commencing employment with the respondent, the dyslexic employee undertook an occupational health (OH) assessment. Subsequently, the respondent received a report dated 1 October highlighting the claimant’s complex needs. With that said, it detailed that, provided appropriate support was given, they were confident he could  “work to a satisfactory standard”. As such, on 21 October, an HR team leader emailed the claimant, notifying him that someone would contact him soon to discuss reasonable adjustments

Shortly after, the disabled employee accepted his offer of employment on 4 November, a fixed-term contract, ceasing on 21 October 2022. Despite being fixed-term, he knew from previous employment with the respondent that he could apply for a permanent position once it ended.

Initially, he overlooked the food supply for the social care sector, with particular attention on private sector care homes. However, in early 2021, he took over the “£500 programme”. This programme provided one-off payments to Scottish social care workers to thank them for their efforts throughout the pandemic.

Reasonable Adjustments Prove Inadequate

During this period, the respondent contacted the claimant, informing him that a laptop with all the necessary assistive technology would be delivered around 19 November. They also told him that he would receive a 27-inch monitor, a keyboard, and a mouse. The respondent claimed that this had been checked and was compatible with the software he required.

Yet when the equipment arrived, it was not as described. The disabled employee explained that the laptop included “very low-spec” software and was sent without a power cable. He also discussed how the keyboard and mouse were incompatible with the required systems and the monitor was “problematic”.

Consequently, he responded via email on 20 November, initially seeking assistance with the missing power cable. Over the subsequent months, he conversed with the respondent repeatedly, endeavouring to resolve his ongoing equipment inadequacies.

Support Shortfalls Instigate Sick Leave

Then, between 26 May and 11 June 2021, the dyslexic employee experienced a significant decline in health, exacerbated by his conditions, necessitating a period of leave. By such time, he felt the respondent had failed to support him and provide suitable adjustments.

Furthermore, because of his extended leave, the claimant hit the ‘7-day absence trigger’ during his probation. This led to a formal meeting whereby he discussed the lack of support he’d received since commencing his employment. He also highlighted deficiencies in team communications to build support and positive relationships, as well as workplace adjustments.

On 12 October, the respondent emailed the disabled employee, notifying him that preparations had been made for his office return, with a room set up to accommodate the necessary adjustments. Unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case. Doors leading to the claimant’s office hadn’t been automated to allow for wheelchair access. Moreover, the room lacked all of the adjustments required to enable his return.

To further highlight the shortfalls of the respondent’s actions, they received an additional OH report on 25 October. It stated, “It is my clinical opinion that if he had been given the appropriate support and adjustments, his absence may not have occurred”. This referred to the sick leave the claimant was forced to take between May and June.

Dismissal for the Disabled Employee

Following a performance review on 10 November, the respondent highlighted that the claimant’s relationship with a project team had declined. They explained that this breakdown gave cause for concern regarding his ability to lead and direct policy teams. However, the claimant contended this assertion. He firmly believed he’d been mistreated by the team, who allegedly excluded him from meetings, showed aggression, and swore at him.

As a consequence of the performance review, the respondent decided to extend the claimant’s probation period. This had an adverse effect on the dyslexic employee, who, according to the respondent, then suffered a mental health breakdown. The next day, the claimant went on sick leave due to anxiety and depression and never returned.

On 17 November, the disabled employee submitted a grievance regarding his probation. He alleged the probation extension lacked justification and adherence to established policy and that he’d been unfairly treated. What’s more, he felt the respondent’s actions clearly showed they wanted to dismiss him. 

However, following a lengthy investigation, the claimant learned that his grievance had only been partly upheld on 2 August 2022. While it was agreed that the policy hadn’t been followed, the respondent didn’t believe he had been treated unfairly due to disability.

As such, the claimant appealed this decision on 9 August. Unfortunately, his appeal proved unsuccessful and on 20 October, the respondent decided to dismiss him as his fixed-term contract ended the following day. The claimant then appealed his dismissal on 24 October, but this also eventually proved unsuccessful. Consequently, he claimed disability discrimination and failure to make reasonable adjustments to an employment tribunal.

The Employment Tribunal’s Judgment

First, it was established that the claimant’s conditions amounted to a disability under the Equality Act 2010. The tribunal then established that the decision to dismiss stemmed from the respondent’s belief that the disabled employee hadn’t demonstrated satisfactory performance during his probation. 

Yet, they ruled that had he received the necessary reasonable adjustments, he would have been able to satisfy said requirements. Hence, they stated the claimant had faced less favourable treatment and had been directly discriminated against due to his disability upon dismissal. 

Furthermore, highlighting the lack of support given, the tribunal also held the respondent had failed to make necessary reasonable adjustments. In light of these findings, a subsequent remedy hearing will be scheduled to determine the claimant’s compensation.

Get Help with Redmans

If your employer has discriminated against you or hasn’t made the requisite reasonable adjustments to facilitate the effective completion of your duties, contact us today. Redmans Solicitors are employment law specialists who can help you resolve your problem. Calling us now enables us to answer your questions and uncover the eligibility of your case.

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