In disability discrimination claims, employers have to make “reasonable adjustments” if the disabled person has been put at a substantial disadvantage by a “provision, criterion or practice” (PCP). In Ishola v Transport for London (TfL), the Court of Appeal held that, to constitute a PCP as opposed to a one-off act, there has to be evidence that it will or would be done again in the future if a similar hypothetical scenario arose.
Mr Ishola was recognised as suffering from a disability (depression and migraines) under the Equality Act 2010. In April 2015 he made a complaint about another employee which was investigated but rejected. He was not satisfied with the outcome and went on sick leave shortly afterwards.
His sickness absence was managed through a process of referrals to occupational health doctors and management review meetings with different managers allocated to his case at different stages. Mr Ishola did not engage with the process and lodged a further grievance on 30 May 2016 about two different managers under the bullying and harassment policy. His grievance was not upheld.
He then brought a number of different tribunal claims including a failure to make a reasonable adjustment. In particular, he argued that TfL had operated a PCP of requiring him to return to work without concluding a proper and fair investigation into his grievances of April 2015 and May 2016. As a result of his disability of depression, this put him under pressure which amounted to a substantial disadvantage.
Section 20 of the Equality Act 2010 states that employers have a duty to make “reasonable adjustments” if the disabled person has been put at a substantial disadvantage by a “provision, criterion or practice” imposed by the employer compared to someone who is not disabled.
Tribunal and EAT decisions
The tribunal held TfL had not imposed a PCP requiring Mr Ishola to return to work before investigating his grievances (and therefore before dismissing him) as this did not constitute a PCP. Instead it “was a one-off act in the course of dealings with one individual”. The EAT (weekly LELR 612) upheld that conclusion.
Mr Ishola appealed. He argued that the tribunal had taken “too narrow and technical an approach” to his claim and that if an employer takes a decision or action which impacts on an individual and which is capable of a reasonable adjustment, that amounts to a PCP.
Decision of Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal held that although the words “provision, criterion or practice” are ordinary English words which should be construed widely, they do not apply to every situation in which an employee claims to have been treated unfairly.
A PCP implies “a state of affairs…indicating how similar cases are generally treated or how a similar case would be treated if it occurred again”. In other words, something may be a practice if the indication is that it will or would be done again in future in the event that a similar hypothetical case arises.
In this case, there was no evidence that TfL expected Mr Ishola to return to work despite the lack of a proper and fair investigation of his complaints. Nor was there any evidence that this was the way in which things were generally done in practice. On the contrary, the evidence showed that in practice grievances were promptly responded to and investigated.
This was therefore a one-off decision in the course of dealing with Mr Ishola, as the tribunal was entitled to find.
Although the court found that one off acts, such as a decision in relation to a particular individual’s grievance may not amount to a PCP where there is nothing to indicate that the same approach would apply in the future, it is still open for an individual to argue that they have been directly discriminated against or been treated unfavourably for a reason arising from discrimination.