The law states that employers are required to make reasonable adjustments where a “provision, criterion or practice” puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with someone who is not disabled. In Linsley v Commissioners for HM Revenue and Customs, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) held that tribunals must focus on the disadvantage facing a disabled person when deciding whether the adjustment was reasonable.  

Basic facts

Ms Linsley suffered from ulcerative colitis, a condition that was exacerbated by stress, and which meant that she sometimes urgently needed to go to the toilet.

Following a recommendation by the occupational health service in 2012, she was allocated a dedicated parking space at work so that she did not have the stress of looking for a place to park even though she was not a blue badge holder. This was in line with HMRC’s national policy giving priority to members of staff who needed a parking space as a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act 2010, whether or not they were blue badge holders.

When she moved to work on a different HMRC site in 2016, none of the managers seemed to be aware of this policy. Instead, they put alternative arrangements in place allowing her to park in an essential user bay in the event that no other spaces were available. In an emergency it was agreed that she could park in a layby near the offices without incurring a parking violation ticket as long as she moved her car as soon as possible.

She continued to ask for a dedicated space without success, and in April 2017 she brought a tribunal claim that, by virtue of failing to make a reasonable adjustment, her employer had discriminated against her on the ground of disability. 

Tribunal decision

Dismissing her claim, the tribunal held that a dedicated parking space was not the only possible reasonable adjustment or that it was necessarily the best solution not least because the dedicated bay might not be in the best position.

In any event, HMRC had ensured that Ms Linsley had access to parking bays in the essential user parking area, which was her preferred entrance to the site. Although her employer was in breach of their own policy, it was not contractual and the rights under the policy were discretionary.

Her employer had therefore made a reasonable adjustment in the arrangements they had made for her. It may not have been the best and it was not what she wanted but it was sufficient for HMRC to discharge their obligations to her under the Equality Act. 

EAT decision

Overturning that decision, the EAT held that, having found that HMRC had deviated from its own policy, the tribunal then underestimated the significance of the policy.  The only reason that it had departed from its policy appeared to be that Ms Linsley’s managers were unaware of it and that was not a good enough reason.

The tribunal also failed to focus on the specific disadvantage that Ms Linsley suffered as a result of not having a dedicated space. In other words, the stress of looking for somewhere to park.  Although HMRC offered a number of parking options none of them guaranteed her a space and as such, were unlikely to resolve the problem. 

Although the tribunal was not necessarily wrong to say that other options were available, the fact remained that the adjustments that had been made did not address the disadvantage she suffered which was the stress caused by having to search for a parking place.

The EAT therefore remitted the case to the same tribunal to reconsider the reasonable adjustment issue.