Employment Law Speed Read – 01/04/19
1st April, 2019
In iForce Ltd v Wood, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) considered whether an employee could establish unfavourable treatment based on a mistaken belief.
The Claimant, Ms Wood, had osteoarthritis, a degenerative condition and a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 (EqA). Her condition worsened in cold and damp weather and this was supported by her GP. Ms Wood worked for iForce Ltd (iForce) in one of its warehouses on a fixed bench, but was later required due to a change to working practices in the warehouse, to rotate across the benches. Ms Wood declined to work at the end benches near to the doors, stating that it was colder which exacerbated the symptoms of her osteoarthritis.
Due to Ms Wood’s refusal to work at the end benches, an extensive investigation was undertaken by iForce that found no material difference in the temperature between the end and inner benches. As a result, iForce did not accept that Ms Wood had provided a reasonable response for her refusal to work at the end benches. Following a disciplinary investigation Ms Wood was issued with a final written warning. This was subsequently downgraded to a written warning on appeal by Ms Wood.
The Claimant brought a number of claims in the Employment Tribunal (ET), including discrimination arising from a disability.
Under s15(1) of the EqA, discrimination arising from disability occurs where both:
- A treats B unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of B’s disability; and
- A cannot show that the treatment is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
At first instance the ET held that iForce subjected Ms Wood to a detriment by issuing a final written warning, which was unfavourable treatment because of something (her refusal to comply with management’s instructions) which arose as a consequence of her disability. Ms Wood’s claim for a failure to make reasonable adjustments was upheld by the ET, but her other claims were dismissed.
The ET found that whilst Ms Wood’s belief that the temperature differences in the warehouse was a mistaken one, her refusal to accept instructions was because she believed complying with them would adversely impact on her health, which was a condition of her disability and therefore the essential elements of a discrimination arising from disability claim (s15 claim) were met.
iForce appealed on the ET’s decision on the s15 claim.
Employment Appeal Tribunal
The EAT allowed the appeal and set aside the ET’s judgment on the s15 claim.
The EAT held that it was a matter of fact that there was no difference in temperature between the different benches, it was a mistaken belief by Ms Wood. In addition, Ms Wood’s belief did not arise in consequence of her osteoarthritis – it did not in any sense cause her to believe something which was untrue. The ET had not found a causal connection between Ms Wood’s disability and her false belief and on that basis the claim had to fail.
The EAT discussed that a broad approach should be adopted when determining whether the “something” arises due to a disability. That connection may involve several links rather than an “immediate nexus” and just because the disability is not the immediate cause of the “something” does not mean to say that the requirement is not met.
This case provides useful guidance in determining the connection between the “something” and the disability required for a claim for discrimination. Although the connection may be a loose one and a broad approach is required, the test is an objective one requiring an actual causal link. Whilst in this case a mistaken belief did not establish the required causal link, the EAT did not go as far as to say that a false belief could never amount to something arising from a disability.
If you have any questions on the above and how it will affect you, please do not hesitate to get in touch with a member of our employment team.
Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.
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