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Employee with hearing disability – Boots failed to provide reasonable equipment

A former employee of Boots has won his case at an employment tribunal because the company did not make reasonable adjustments in the workplace for over one year.

Mr Askander failed in his claim for direct disability discrimination because he did not make the claim in the required time frame.

The claimant worked for Boots as a customer assistant in Tottenham Court from 2007 until 2019.

Following an assault Mr Askander was diagnosed with moderate to profound sensorineural hearing loss in both ears. In 2014 his hearing deteriorated rapidly. Boots was aware of this and knew that Mr Askander qualified as disabled under the Equality Act 2010.

In April 2018 Mr Askander completed a performance review where he stated that he wanted to become an assistant manager. Because he had been working for Boots for 11 years, he felt that he was qualified for this position. He used to occasionally manage the store operations when the store manager was absent. This included opening the shop.

Following the review Mr Askander learned that a colleague, Mr Hussain had been chosen for training which would enable him to work as assistant manager. He stated that this move surprised him as he felt he was more qualified than Mr Hussain and had more experience working at Boots.

Furthermore, when Mr Hussain told him that his disability could have an impact on his promotion prospects Mr Askander felt aggrieved. Mr Hussain allegedly stated that the disability would be a great barrier to his career progression because there were some tasks Mr Askander simply could not do. These included communicating in person or over the telephone.

Mr Askander lodged his grievance against the decision to deny his promotion and claimed that he had been discriminated against because of his disability. In 2015 his line manager at the time had nominated him for the assistant manager training programme. This nomination was later blocked by Boots.

When questioned at the tribunal, a representative for Boots stated that there were several areas where Mr Askander had not been performing well. This was the reason why he had not been promoted.

Boots also noted that the complainant had stated that he had more qualifications than Mr Hussain. Boots stated that all promotions were based on skills and competence and not on degrees or length of service to the company. The decision to deny promotion was not based on Mr Askander’s disability.

Mr Askander also raised a grievance about adjustments which had been put in place in December 2016. A certain type of hearing aid, a special telephone and several other pieces of equipment had been recommended to assist Mr Askander in his job. When, in March 2018, the equipment was still not in place Mr Askander wrote to the store manager Mr Patel.

Mr Patel told him that before any equipment would be put in place a new assessment needed to be carried out. This was arranged for April 2018 but did not take place as Mr Askander took sick leave due to a back issue. He did not return to the company.

Boots stated that they were aware of Mr Askander looking for work outside the company. For this reason, they did not put any adjustments into place. It was unclear whether he would remain with the company.

The tribunal found that Boots could not give any reasonable explanation about why Mr Askander had been blocked from training as assistant manager. For this reason, the tribunal ruled that he had been discriminated against although the claim was made too late to be considered.

The tribunal found that Boots had failed to make the much-needed adjustments for Mr Askander. Although he had given the idea that he was looking for work elsewhere, Mr Askander had still been with the company eight months later. Quotations for special hearing aids had been sent to Boots in January 2017.

The ruling found that Boots had the advantage of expert identification about which equipment the claimant needed, and they failed to action it. The tribunal ruled that Boots had failed to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace for Mr Askander.

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