Dismissal fair, despite failure to make reasonable adjustments in appeal process

A recent decision from the Employment Appeal Tribunal provides explains why failure to make reasonable adjustments during the dismissal process does not necessarily make the associated dismissal unfair. 

In this case, the employers had refused the claimant’s request to extend the time limit for bringing an appeal. The employment tribunal ruled that this amounted to a failure to comply with the duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act. However, it went on to conclude that the dismissal was nevertheless fair. This was mainly because it concluded that, in the particular circumstances, the appeal would not have served any useful purpose. An additional claim that the dismissal also amounted to discrimination arising from a disability was also dismissed.

The employment tribunal’s ruling has now been upheld by the EAT. There are two main reasons for this somewhat unusual outcome:

  • Firstly, the claimant had been on long-term sick leave, and had made it clear that she did not wish to return to work, but was seeking medical retirement;
  • Secondly, earlier case law (see for example our blog here) confirms that a failure to allow an employee to appeal will not invariably make a dismissal unfair.

Given its relatively unusual facts, this decision should not encourage employers to overlook their Equality Act duties while conducting disciplinary proceedings. Rather, it should help them understand both obligations better. The duty to make reasonable adjustments focuses primarily on outcomes, while a fair process is a key ingredient in the statutory recipe for a fair dismissal. In most circumstances these related obligations complement each other, but it is always worth remembering that they impose legally distinct duties.

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