Small businesses not blessed with human resources departments can find it hard to accommodate disabled members of staff who need to take time off work. However, as an Employment Tribunal (ET) ruling showed, when it comes to catering for their needs, a corner shop owes the same legal obligations as a multinational (Ciesielska v Bertie's (Broughty Ferry) Ltd).
The case concerned a barber who sustained a broken shoulder in an accident. Her constant pain and restricted movement made such tasks as washing and drying her own hair difficult. She took some days off sick when her shoulder was particularly sore but was generally able to soldier on at work with the aid of prescription painkillers. On learning that she required surgery and would need to take at least six months off work, however, her boss dismissed her over the telephone.
After she launched proceedings, the ET found that her injury caused a long-term physical impairment which had an adverse impact on her ability to carry out day-to-day activities. She was thus disabled within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010. The ET was also satisfied that her employer – a small business with fewer than 10 staff – knew, or at the very least ought to have known, that she had a disability from the date of her accident.
The ET found that she was dismissed because her employer had no wish to keep her on during her lengthy period of enforced absence. That absence arose from the requirement to have surgery, a necessity which itself arose from her disability. She had thus been treated unfavourably due to something arising in consequence of her disability, contrary to Section 15 of the Act.
The ET noted that she had previously had a very good working relationship with her boss and felt very sad and disappointed at the loss of her job. A single mother, she was suddenly left without sufficient income to pay bills or buy food. Her pre-existing mental health difficulties were exacerbated to the point where she had thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
She had not shown that her dismissal had caused her financial loss in that state benefits she had subsequently received more than matched sums in Statutory Sick Pay which her employer would have been obliged to pay her had she kept her job. However, the ET awarded her £10,000 in compensation for injury to her feelings, together with £727 in interest.