Disability Discrimination – An Expectation to Work Long Hours

July 1, 2018

Disability Discrimination – An Expectation to Work Long Hours

In United First Partners Research v Carreras, an employee who had returned to work after he was injured in a cycling accident claimed that a 'requirement' that he work long hours constituted a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 that put him at a substantial disadvantage compared with colleagues without his disability and his employer should have made reasonable adjustments to avoid the disadvantage. The Court of Appeal ruled that a 'requirement' in this context does not have to involve coercion in order for it to amount to a PCP. On the contrary, it may represent no more than a strong form of 'request'.

Mr Carreras worked for United First Partners Research, an independent brokerage and research firm. Previously, he had routinely worked 12 hours a day or more, but the accident had affected him badly, both physically and emotionally. He returned to the office more quickly than was wise and for six months worked maximum eight-hour days. After that, however, his working hours steadily increased and his employer began to expect that he would work one or two evenings a week. United First Partners Research never saw or sought a medical report in respect of his injuries.

The length of Mr Carreras's working day continued to cause him difficulties and that, together with other sources of friction, ultimately led to an angry confrontation with his manager on the same day that he had sent an email formally objecting to working late in the evenings. Intent on making an example of him, his manager raised his voice to him in front of everyone in the office, accusing him of constantly criticising his colleagues. Mr Carreras viewed his treatment as abusive, unacceptable and intimidating. His manager's response was that he could leave if he didn't like it and Mr Carreras tendered his resignation by email later the same day.

He launched Employment Tribunal (ET) proceedings claiming disability discrimination and unfair constructive dismissal. Both of his claims were dismissed, however. The ET held that his impairments as a result of his accident did amount to a disability of which United First Partners Research was aware, but it had not imposed the PCP complained of because he had not been required to work late. At most, there had been an expectation that he would do so. Furthermore, although it had committed repudiatory breaches of his contract, the ET found that his resignation had not been in response to those breaches.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) upheld Mr Carreras's appeal against the ET's decisions. In its view, his constructive unfair dismissal claim was bound to succeed on the evidence, and in rejecting his disability discrimination claim the ET had adopted 'an unduly narrow approach' to the question of whether he had been required to work evenings. It had found that what Mr Carreras had alleged had indeed occurred. United First Partners Research ceased to make entirely open requests that he work evenings. Instead, it became not a matter of whether he would work late but simply of when he would do so. In the EAT's view, this expectation did constitute a PCP and his claim was remitted to the ET for redetermination.

United First Partners Research challenged the EAT's findings.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. It was made clear to Mr Carreras that he was expected to work long hours by a pattern of repeated requests, which put him under pressure to agree. In the Court's view, this practice was capable of amounting to a PCP that put him at a disadvantage.

So far as the unfair constructive dismissal claim was concerned, Mr Carreras's manager's outburst was the immediate cause of his resignation. That incident and preceding events amounted cumulatively to a fundamental breach of contract by his employer.