This case holds that there is no duty to make reasonable adjustments until an employee is ready to return to work.
Read the full decision in Doran v Department for Work and Pensions.
In January 2010, Miss Doran went on sick leave on grounds of stress. When providing her medical certificate, she asked her employer whether it would consider her working part-time hours when she returned.
When subsequently meeting with her Line Manager in February 2010, the issues of part-time work, a lesser role and a four-week phased return were suggested by the employer. Miss Doran said that she wished to speak with her doctor further about this, but did not suggest when she might be able to return to work.
As it transpired, Miss Doran did not speak with her employer further about a specific return date. In May 2010, she received notice of her dismissal, with the employer stating that it could no longer support her absence, which was consistent with its policy of not supporting an absence if there was no indication of a return to work within six months.
Miss Doran brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal, including a claim that her employer had failed to make reasonable adjustments. Miss Doran perceived the suggested four-week phased return to work to be unreasonable and was aggrieved that her employer was suggesting demoting her (into a lesser role) and offering her a lower salary.
The EAT rejected Miss Doran’s appeal against the decision that she had not been unfairly dismissed, confirming that the duty to make reasonable adjustments had not arisen, because Miss Doran was not fit to return to work.
Where an employee is on long-term sickness absence, a dispute will often arise as to the steps that the employer should take to help the absent employee return to work. This case is helpful for employers in such circumstances. It confirms that an employer’s duty to make adjustments will not arise until there is an indication that the employee is, or might be at some particular point in the future, fit to return to work.
It is however worth remembering that it is always good practice for an employer to discuss with an employee possible adjustments at an early stage of their absence.