A long running case brought by a wheelchair user in Yorkshire against a bus company, FirstGroup Plc v Paulley concluded earlier this year. However, a lot of criticism was placed on the bus company as the employer for their actions. So why was this?
In February 2012, Mr Paulley was unable to board the bus as a woman with a pushchair and a sleeping child was in the space marked by a wheelchair sign. When asked by the bus driver to move or fold the pushchair, the woman refused and there was little intervention from the driver thereafter. Mr. Paulley was therefore unable to board the bus, had to wait for the next one which then affected him getting to the train station on time for his train. Mr Paulley claimed unlawful discrimination on the grounds of his disability, claiming that FirstGroup had failed to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate his disability.
The Courts’ Decision – five years on:
Over time, the case was escalated to the Supreme Court and it was found that the bus driver should have done more in his position by requiring the woman to move rather than simply asking her to move. This led to negative criticism against First Group in that their policy of ‘request not require’ was not fit for purpose and should implement a ‘require not a request’ policy allowing the bus drivers to take further action.
So what’s the lesson here for Employers:
Employers have a duty to ensure their employees are aware and equipped to deal with situations involving people with a disability. In FirstGroup case, the driver should have insisted for the woman to move in order to accommodate the wheelchair user as not to place him at a disadvantage, with it being the only seat available for him on the bus. The bus driver’s ability to have dealt with this situation differently could have been as a result of him receiving training / awareness in the first instance.
You as an employer are responsible for your employee’s actions during working hours and ensuring your employees know how to act appropriately in difficult situations. It is advisable for employers to ensure their policies go as far enough to avoid significant disadvantage to people with a disability. This includes your absence, disciplinary, recruitment, redundancy policies and extends to a lot more. Employees need to be aware and trained on equality and discrimination matters and understand the correct procedures to follow. I appreciate that in the case above it was related to a member of the public however in FirstGroup’s case, that member of the public was a customer.
Your employees could be faced to deal with members of the public, customers / clients and even other colleagues with a disability and in certain situations could be uncomfortable or unaware on how to handle it because of their lack of awareness.
The lesson from this case….. protect your business and employees from discrimination claim(s) arising from disability!