Tribunal rules disabled Scottish government social care worker was discriminated against

Scottish government tribunal An employment tribunal has found that a disabled team leader within the social care division of the Scottish government was discriminated against due to not receiving the necessary equipment to work.

James Blair, who uses a wheelchair due to spondylitis, a degenerative spinal cord disease, joint condition Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and dyslexia, started his role on 23 November 2020. He had been working from home that year in his previous role, where he received an ergonomic chair, a large monitor and a standing-height stool.

Before his new role, he undertook an occupational health assessment, which highlighted his needs, and received an email in October notifying him that someone would contact him to discuss reasonable adjustments. He was told he would receive a laptop with necessary assistive technology, a 27-inch monitor, a keyboard and a mouse on 19 November, but they were not as described upon arrival.

Between 26 May and 11 June 2021, Blair experienced a significant decline in health and required a period of leave. He then took part in a formal meeting as part of his probation period, whereby he discussed the lack of support he had received, and highlighted deficiencies in team communications and workplace adjustments.

On 12 October, he received an email notifying him that preparations had been made for his office return, with a room set up to accommodate the necessary adjustments, but he felt that they were not at the required standard for him. Later that month, his employer received an additional occupational health report stating: “It is my clinical opinion that if he had been given the appropriate support and adjustments, his absence may not have occurred”.

Following his performance review, Blair’s probation period was extended. He went on sick leave due to anxiety and depression and never returned. He submitted a grievance regarding his probation on 17 November, stating he had been unfairly treated, but it had only been partly upheld as of 2 August 2022. Blair appealed this and his eventual dismissal on 20 October, but was unsuccessful in both.

Employment judge Murdo Macleod said: “The claimant’s position was simply that had they been accorded the reasonable adjustments which should have been put in place for them, they would not have had their employment terminated at that time.

Given that the claimant was anxious and keen to return to work, but found themselves unable to do so in the absence of the reasonable adjustments which should have been put in place, we consider that the claimant’s dismissal amounted to an act of direct discrimination, that is, that the claimant was treated less favourably as a disabled person than a non-disabled person in these circumstances would have been.”

A subsequent remedy hearing will be scheduled to determine Blair’s compensation. The Scottish government was contacted for comment prior to publication.