EAT rules on disability case

The Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) has ruled that an employer was not required to pay an absent disabled employee full salary once they had exhausted statutory sick pay. In the case of O’Hanlon v HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) the clinically depressed O’Hanlon argued that reducing her to half pay and then no pay at all under the organisation’s contractual sick pay policy was discriminatory under the terms of the Disability Discrimination Act, and that she should have continued to have been paid on full pay while absent due to her disability.

However, the EAT ruled that HMRC had made enough ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help her remain in work, and was therefore not bound to keep her on full pay. Kathleen Healey, a partner in the employment team at law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, said: "It confirms what we have always understood to be the case: that ‘reasonable adjustments’ [means] just that, and maintaining somebody on full pay, particularly when you are a large employer with a number of people off sick, is not always going to be a reasonable adjustment." O’Hanlon argued her case based on a former ruling in Meikle v Nottinghamshire County Council (2005), which found the employer had not made enough reasonable adjustments to help the employee remain in work.

However, Healey warned that while the O’Hanlon case was good news for employers, they shouldn’t relax. "Employers [still] have to comply with their duty to make reasonable adjustments, but if they have done that they are now not at risk of a finding that they must maintain a person on full pay."