Case update: need to establish a connection between disability and “something” arising in consequence for s.15 claim

Case update: need to establish a connection between disability and “something” arising in consequence for s.15 claim

In 2016 iForce changed its working practices. As a result of these changes Ms Wood was required to move benches and “follow the work” as opposed to remaining at a fixed bench. Ms Wood refused to work at the benches located nearest the loading doors as she believed, albeit mistakenly, that it was colder, damper and draftier at those benches and the conditions would exacerbate her osteoarthritis. iForce’s extensive investigation identified that there was no material difference in relation to temperature, humidity or drafts throughout the entire warehouse. As a result of their investigation, and their view that Ms Wood’s refusal to move workbenches was unreasonable, iForce issued Ms Wood with a final written warning.

Ms Wood successfully brought a claim against iForce for discrimination arising from disability under the Act. This is where an employee is treated unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of his or her disability, which the employer cannot show is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. The employment tribunal’s rationale was that the final written warning amounted to unfavourable treatment which arose in consequence of Ms Wood’s disability, i.e. Ms Wood was issued the final written warning based on her refusal to move to work benches located near the loading door, with her refusal being mistakenly based on the belief that it would make her osteoarthritis worse. iForce appealed the decision.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal allowed iForce’s appeal. The EAT acknowledged that a broad approach is taken when establishing if there is a causal connection between the “something” and the disability for the purposes of discrimination arising from disability under the Act. The EAT stated that case law has explained that there need not be an immediate nexus and that the connection itself may involve several links. The EAT also stated that where the employer is aware of the underlying disability, it is immaterial whether the employer does not accept the link between the underlying disability and the “something”.

However, the EAT ultimately determined that Ms Wood had failed to establish a connection between her refusal to work at benches near the loading doors, i.e. the “something” and her disability. The employment tribunal had failed to explain how Ms Wood’s mistaken belief arose as a consequence of her disability. As a result the EAT set aside the employment tribunal’s decision.

This is a useful case as it reaffirms that there must be a connection between the unfavourable treatment suffered by a claimant and his or her disability in order for the claimant to succeed with a claim for discrimination arising from disability under the Act. As illustrated by the EAT’s decision, a perceived connection is not sufficient.

Force Ltd v Wood [UKEAT/0167/18]