News & Insights: Commercial

Tribunal Award £11,852 in Unfair Dismissal and Disability Discrimination Case

16 November 2018

The Tribunal has awarded a disabled woman £11,852 following a finding of unfair dismissal.

Ms Celia Luisa Pereira da Costa suffers from glaucoma and chronic uveitis in both her eyes. She worked for Summer Garden Salads Limited from 2012 until her dismissal in August 2017. Her employer was aware of her glaucoma from the commencement of her employment.

At the time of her dismissal, Ms da Costa held the role of Production Operative carrying out the preparation of vegetables including onions. In 2017 however, the Company changed from dried, frozen onions to fresh onions. The peeling and chopping of these fresh onions caused Ms da Costa pain and discomfort in her eyes.

As a result of the pain and discomfort, Ms da Costa went to her doctor, attended the eye clinic and took time off work. A doctor’s letter detailed that Ms da Costa was fit to return to normal duties and requested that she be excused from peeling and chopping onions.

The Company provided Ms da Costa with protective googles however Ms da Costa experienced difficulties wearing these over her glasses as the googles would cause her glasses to steam up. The Company proceeded to dismiss Ms da Costa. Ms da Costa, supported by the Equality Commission, lodged proceedings against her former employer.

At hearing, the Company failed to provide evidence to the Tribunal in support of their reasoning for failing to provide reasonable adjustments due to prohibitive cost, microbial cross-contamination or absence of any safe area where chopped onions could have been left.

The Tribunal held that the Company had unlawfully discriminated against Ms da Costa by failing to make reasonable adjustments as required by the Disability Discrimination Act and instead dismissing her from her position with the Company.

This case serves as a reminder to all employers that they are under a duty to make reasonable adjustments for their disabled employees. Deciding on whether or not an adjustment is reasonable will be dependent on the circumstances of each case however employers should start by consulting with the employee to ascertain his / her needs.

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