Disability discrimination: employer’s knowledge of disabled status

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The Court of Appeal has confirmed that employers must make their own factual judgments on whether employees are disabled for the purposes of discrimination legislation. Merely ‘rubber stamping’ the opinion of medical or occupational health advisers will not be sufficient to deny knowledge of an employee’s disability.

Employers have a positive duty to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace for disabled employees. That duty is triggered where the employer knows, or ought reasonably to know, that an employee is disabled and likely to be placed at a substantial disadvantage (in comparison with a non-disabled person) because of their disability. The claims in this case were brought under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA). However, the matters addressed are equally relevant to claims brought under the Equality Act 2010.

The claimant worked for Newport City Council and began suffering from a stress-related condition in August 2005. Between August 2005 and January 2008, the claimant was off sick for lengthy periods of time, intermittently returning to work for short periods of time. During this period, the claimant was referred to the respondent’s occupational health adviser (OH) for an assessment. The OH reported that the claimant had stress-related symptoms, which were work related, but that he showed no signed of clinical depression…

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