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Law for Business

Knowhow - guidance - precedents

11 SEP 2012

Reasonable adjustments

In Cordell v Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the EAT looked at when an adjustment would be too expensive to be reasonable. The appellant was employed by the FCO and was offered a job in Kazakhstan. She was deaf and in previous roles had been given the services of ‘lipspeakers' to support her. Before taking up the role, the FCO introduced a policy of reviewing the reasonableness of any proposed costly adjustments to accommodate disabled staff. This concluded that it was uncertain whether adequate support was available in Kazakhstan but, in any case, the cost of providing it would be prohibitively expensive, and the FCO did not appoint her to the role. Ms Cordell claimed that this was both direct discrimination on the grounds of her disability and a failure to make reasonable adjustments, and compared herself with employees with children, who were offered financial support for their children's education costs while abroad.

The EAT held that the reason for Ms Cordell's non-appointment was the cost of giving her the necessary support, rather than her disability itself, so the direct discrimination claim failed. The comparison with recipients of education support was not a valid one because they were not in the same material circumstances as the appellant, and in fact she also would have received education support if she had school-age children.

The EAT also confirmed that the requested support was not a reasonable adjustment. The tribunal at first instance had noted that the cost of support (if it was available) was likely to have been five times the appellant's salary. The EAT said the tribunal's consideration of cost was valid, in the context of the FCO's total budget for adjustments and the total cost of embassy staff. There is no objective measure for deciding when an adjustment is reasonable or not and cost factors need to be considered in context.

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