It is well known that employers have a statutory duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees. In the recent case of Wade v Sheffield Hallam University , the EAT were required to consider whether it was right for an employer to require an employee to go through a competitive interview process, or whether exempting the employee from that process was a reasonable adjustment.
In 2006 Sheffield Hallam University was undergoing a reorganisation. As part of this, Ms Wade’s role of Assistant Librarian was removed from the structure. Ms Wade applied for a new post, but was unsuccessful. In 2008 the same role arose again, and the Claimant applied for it, but did not get the position.
At the Employment Tribunal Ms Wade argued that she should have been automatically appointed to the role. It appears that Ms Wade was under the impression that the new role was not very different from her previous one. However, the Tribunal disagreed and rejected her claim. The Tribunal considered the previous case of Archibald v Fife  in which the House of Lords had indicated that it can sometimes be a reasonable adjustment for an employer to disapply a competitive interview process, but found that was not the case in Ms Wade’s situation.
Ms Wade then appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT). The EAT said that the Tribunal’s decision was correct. In this case there had been no breach of the duty because Ms Wade lacked some of the essential criteria necessary for the role. It could not be a reasonable adjustment to require an employer to appoint someone who didn’t meet the necessary requirements.
Although this case was decided under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, the current law as contained in the Equality Act 2010 is the same.
Employers are often (understandably) wary of the duty to make reasonable adjustments, as it can seem so open-ended, but as this case shows, there are limits on what Tribunals are prepared to consider reasonable.
However, the EAT were keen to make clear that as in Archibald v Fife, allowing an employee to bypass a competitive interview may in some circumstances constitute a reasonable adjustment – there are no hard and fast rules, because reasonableness depends on so many different factors. For example, the size and resources of the employer is usually a key factor, but the particular circumstances of the employee and the job will also be highly relevant too.
If you are dealing with a situation involving a disabled employee, we can help. Please contact any member of the Pure Employment Law team (01243 836840 or [email protected]).