Reasonable Adjustments...when does the clock start ticking?

Sometimes there is confusion on time limits to pursue discrimination claims, particularly with discrimination claims based on an alleged failure to make reasonable adjustments. As a general rule of thumb, such claims have to be made within 3 months of the discriminatory event. Alternatively within 3 months of the end of a continuing act or chain of events, which encapsulates specific events/acts which took place more than 3 months before the claim is brought.

What happens however where the claim centres on the employer’s alleged failure to make reasonable adjustments, and from what point does the ‘3 month clock’ start ticking?

In Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Jobcentre Plus) v Jamil where an employee brought a claim of disability discrimination more than 3 months after the employer had first refused to make a reasonable adjustment.

Previous case law confirmed that the ‘3 month clock’ starts ticking in reasonable adjustment claims, where the employer makes a decision not to make such an adjustment, did an act inconsistent with making such an adjustment, or from the expiry of a period in which the employer was reasonably expected to make such an adjustment.

Ms Jamil made a request to her employer to transfer to a different office (closer to her home) after she became disabled with rheumatoid arthritis. She claimed this was a reasonable adjustment for her employer to make as her disability made it difficult for her to get to work.

The employer refused the request, and Ms Jamil brought a claim, but not before a period of 3 months had passed since the employer had first refused the request. As such, the employer argued the claim was out of time.

The claim succeeded however (and a later appeal dismissed), on the basis that the refusal of the request to move offices was a continuing act, and not an isolated one off event. The employer’s downfall in running this defence was based on 3 reasons:

  • The request was stored on a “continuing interest list” suggesting it was open to review;
  • Ms Jamil was sent a letter saying the decision effectively remained under review, and;

  • The real reason her request was turned down was not due to a lack of vacancies at the other office, but because her husband worked at the other office.

As such, there was a continuing act and the claim was in time, as it was brought within 3 months of the ‘continuing act period’. Had a continuing state of affairs not existed, which the employer seemingly admitted to, a different outcome may have been seen.

The case is a useful reminder of the time principles which apply when considering discrimination and reasonable adjustment claims.

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