Employer fails to make reasonable adjustments
Published 20 November 2018.
A former production operative with a disability has been awarded £11,000 in compensation by the Industrial Tribunal after her employer failed to make reasonable adjustments and had unfairly dismissed her.
Celia Luisa Pereira da Costa was employed by a company that specialised in retail salad production since 2011, firstly as a janitor, before training and working as a production operative.
Ms Da Costa suffered from glaucoma and chronic eye difficulties, and her employer was aware of her disability. As a production operative her work involved the preparation of various vegetables, this included handling and cooking dried or frozen onions.
In 2017 the company began to use fresh onions, and Ms da Costa was asked to help with the peeling and chopping of these. As a result of this, Ms da Costa experienced pain and discomfort in her eyes, which required her to attend a hospital eye clinic.
A letter from her Doctor was provided asking that she be excused from the peeling and chopping of onions, and she was ruled fit to return to normal duties. After a series of meetings with her employer, Ms Da Costa was given a letter confirming termination of her employment.
Ms Da Costa believed that the company could have made arrangements to allow her to continue to work, including having the onions copped and peeled in another section of the production area, or to provide someone to assist with the peeling and chopping duties. The termination of her employment left her feeling “discarded after many years of loyal service”.
The Equality Commission supported Ms Da Costa in taking her case to the Tribunal.
Her employer stated that the onions could not be peeled or chopped in another section due to possible contamination between the gluten and gluten-free food production, nor that it was financially possible to provide an operative for peeling and chopping.
The Tribunal stated that “no evidence was presented to support the prohibitive cost or microbial cross contamination…” and decided that Ms Da Costa was unlawfully discriminated against because the company failed in its duty to make reasonable adjustments as per the Disability Discrimination Act. Ms Da Costa was subsequently awarded £11,852 in compensation.
Suzanne Keenan, Associate Director and Head of Employment, comments: “A lot of recent cases in the media, including this one, are about employers failing to make reasonable adjustments for employees with a disability. It is very important that as an employer you familiarise yourself with your duties under the legislation including identifying and making reasonable adjustments for employees with a disability.”
Source: Equality Commission