Disabled worker repeatedly made to move desks by Islington Council despite contrary medical advice, judge rules

Islington Town Hall.Picture:Ken Mears

Islington Town Hall.Picture:Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

A disabled employee was made to “hotdesk” by Islington Council despite repeated calls from medical consultants to give her a fixed place to work, a judge has ruled.

In January Judge McNeill QC upheld a discrimination complaint against Islington Council – ordering the town hall to pay the worker more than £10,000 in compensation, as reported by the Gazette at the time.

But it wasn’t until last week the reasons behind the ruling were published. They reveal the claimant sufferers from asthma and fibromyalgia – a long-term condition causing pain all over the body – and that a doctor, occupational health physician and an ergonomist all advised the council to make accommodation for her owing to her disability.

The tribunal heard how the council employee – who has worked there since 1984 – was made to move desks depending on shifts, at her office in Newington Barrow, Finsbury Park. The tribunal heard how, owing to her fibromyalgia, “the position in which she sits at work has a significant impact on her condition”; and that “her asthma is triggered by sitting in the direct path of air conditioning units”.

The judge did admit Islington had made some reasonable adjustments but argued: “The policy placed the claimant at a disadvantage compared to non-disabled co-workers, and that disadvantage was more than minor or trivial. The claimant could, in practice, pick her own workstation on a day-by-day basis, if she came in early, but without a fixed desk there was no guarantee that her workstation would be properly set up for her when she came to work.

“She might be required to move equipment, for example, a chair and footrest. Given her physical condition and the symptoms of her fibromyalgia, such activity could be painful or, on occasions, impossible given the severity of her symptoms. Non-disabled workers would not have this difficulty.”

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Islington Council argued the woman was not disadvantaged, and that she could in effect chose her own desk because a senior manager had agreed to intercede if someone was already sitting there. But the tribunal found the manager had been unsuccessful in these efforts on at least one occasion. The judge also found Islington’s argument that providing “a fixed desk was impossible in practice was contrary to its own express policy”.

The ruling also notes how “Islington failed to look at this matter broadly and holistically in the light of all the expert evidence”.

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Judge McNeill stipulated the woman must be given a “fixed desk of her choice on the second floor” and that three of her colleagues should receive “training on [Islington’s] hot desking policy and the duty to make reasonable adjustments”.

Islington Council is not commenting further on this ruling.

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