Council ignored expert advice in making disabled worker ‘hot desk’, tribunal finds

Islington Town Hall. Photograph: Islington Council.

Islington Council continuously ignored medical experts in refusing to set up a permanent desk for a disabled employee, a judge has found.

A Watford employment tribunal ruled in January that the Town Hall must pay Debbie Japal, who suffers from asthma and chronic pain condition fibromyalgia, £10,102.50 for unlawfully discriminating against her.

Japal was made to ‘hot desk’, a practice which sees workers switch desks depending on shifts, despite a doctor, an occupational health nurse and an ergonomist saying she needed a permanent desk, away from air conditioning, and an appropriate chair.

The tribunal’s reasons for the January ruling were published last week.

The judge stated: “The policy placed the claimant [Japal] at a disadvantage compared to non- disabled co-workers and that disadvantage was more than minor or trivial.”

He added that Islington Council had failed to look at the matter “broadly” and “holistically”, and continuously ignored Japal’s requests, backed by medical experts, for a dedicated workstation.

The Town Hall argued it would have been “impractical” to give Japal a permanent desk, but the tribunal said this did not adhere to the council’s own policy for disabled employees.

The judge acknowledged that the council did make some “reasonable” adjustments for Japal, and that she was offered an additional day working at home when needed.

Management also offered to intervene on her behalf if there was no suitable workstation available for her in the office.

The tribunal awarded £10,102.50 to Japal, part of it for “injury to feelings”, acknowledging that “matters continued over a number of years” from 2013.

It also found that she “suffered some considerable distress” because her requests were not acted upon with “due expedition or, indeed, at all”.

Japal had also claimed for financial loss, alleging that management told her that if she took any more sick leave she could be dismissed. The tribunal rejected this claim.

The judge ruled that Japal be assigned a fixed desk of her choice on the second floor of 7 Newington Barrow Way, appropriately set up for her needs.

Town Hall bosses will receive training on the hot desking policy and the duty to make reasonable adjustments, in line with the employment tribunal’s recommendations.

Islington Council declined to comment when approached by the Citizen.