A judge has ruled that an employer failed to make reasonable adjustments for a disabled employee who missed disciplinary hearings held over Microsoft Teams. The employee, who has anxiety, hadn’t heard of the online platform and didn’t know how to access the hearings. The employer forged ahead and dismissed the employee anyway based on the evidence they had. This case didn’t have to end up in tribunal, with a few simple steps the employer could have prevented the claim…
What happened in Hayes v Rendall & Rittner Ltd?
The employee was a concierge. His line manager received a complaint from a contractor that a bag had been placed on their vehicle which was suspected to contain excrement and urine. The manager viewed the CCTV footage and saw the employee going up to the area above the contractor’s van and throwing an item which landed on it. The employee was suspended and the matter investigated. The employee denied throwing the bag, claiming what he had thrown was a tissue. He was invited to attend an in-person disciplinary hearing, but the country went into lock-down for the first time and this was changed to a hearing via Microsoft Teams.
The employee was sent the link to the Teams meeting by email. He was not given any instructions on how to join and he didn’t know what Teams was. The employee didn’t attend. The hearing was re-scheduled and another Teams link was sent. The employee was warned that if he didn’t attend without reasonable cause or explanation then a decision may be taken in his absence. Again, he didn’t attend.
Neither of the parties contacted each other that day. HR took the view that because the employee had not contacted to say there was a problem, he had decided not to attend. When the employee made contact later about a different matter, he raised that he was suffering from anxiety, feeling under immense pressure and that he didn’t know what Microsoft Teams was. Even though a decision had not yet been made, the disciplinary hearing wasn’t reconvened and a decision was taken on the evidence available. The employee was dismissed for deliberately throwing an object off the building.
The employee took his employer to tribunal, one of his complaints was that his employer had failed to make a reasonable adjustment for him in respect of the disciplinary hearings.
What was the decision?
The judge found:
- The employer failed to make a reasonable adjustment by not reorganising the disciplinary hearing for a third time by phone. The employee’s acute anxiety affected his ability to cope with the issue of accessing the disciplinary hearing on Teams, including his ability to try to find an alternative way to attend the disciplinary hearing on the day and contacting his employer. Once the employer was aware of the employee’s anxiety and connection difficulties the disciplinary hearing should have been re-scheduled by phone. The judge said that ‘this would have been a simple, inexpensive and timely way to give the employee an opportunity to be heard’.
- The business should educate its HR team on the employer’s responsibilities towards disabled employees. Whilst the HR Adviser was conscientious, through lack of training she didn’t spot the issues which would have enabled her to take appropriate steps. It was the employer who was at fault for this.
This case shows that managing disability rights in the workplace can be tricky for employers. Sometimes taking a few small steps can make all the difference when it comes to acting appropriately and complying with the law. To help protect your business you should think about:
- Training your managers – This can empower your staff, raise awareness and reduce the likelihood of mistakes being made. Kingfisher Professional Services Ltd can provide a wide variety of bespoke training as an additional service. For further information, please contact us.
- Seeking advice – Employment and HR matters can be challenging, remember to seek advice on the specific facts of your situation before taking action.
If you would like assistance with an employment law matter, please contact us as we are here to help.