The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has held that, where a teacher had disability which meant she could no longer teach, it was not a reasonable adjustment to continue her pay at the same level when she had moved to a lower paid, less demanding role at her school.
In the case of Aleem v E-Act Academy Trust Limited UKEAT/0099/20/RN the Claimant was a science teacher who had experienced mental health which had led to significant periods of sickness absence. It was agreed that this mental ill health constituted a disability and the Claimant was ultimately unable to continue in her teaching role. She did, however, return to work in a new role of cover supervisor which was paid at a lower rate.
The school agreed to continue to pay Mrs Aleem at her old teacher rate of pay for a three-month period whilst she tried out the cover supervisor role. This pay protection was then extended whilst Mrs Aleem brought a grievance and then grievance appeal regarding the way the school had handled the situation.
The Occupational Health advice was that Mrs Aleem was not well enough to return to her former teaching role but fit enough to carry out the cover supervisor role. Therefore, once the grievance process was concluded, the school adjusted Mrs Aleem’s pay to the cover supervisor rate as she had now decided to take this role permanently.
Mrs Aleem argued that the school should have continued to pay her at the old teaching rate of pay as a “reasonable adjustment” for her disability as part of the school’s duties under the Equality Act 2010.
The EAT upheld the original decision of the Employment Tribunal (ET), which had rejected this argument. It held that it was not reasonable for the school to be expected to continue to pay the old, higher rate of pay once the trial period and grievance processes were concluded.
It was a reasonable adjustment to do so whilst those processes were on-going in order to support her return to work but this could not be expected to continue for ever. The ET had not been wrong to take into account the significant additional cost that would be incurred by paying Mrs Aleem at teachers’ rates indefinitely.
This helpful judgment confirms the principle that the duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act for a disability does not extend to indefinite pay protection where an employee can longer perform their contractual duties.
A reasonable employer will always do everything it can to assist an employee in eventually making a full recovery and returning to work. However, where this is not possible, and the employee moves permanently to a less demanding role, it is reasonable to adjust pay downwards to the appropriate rate for that new role.
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