£34k compensation after employer ignores Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
A receptionist with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome at a children’s soft play centre in Horsham, Surrey, has been awarded over £34,000 compensation after her employer ignored the advice of occupational health.
The full judgement from London South Employment Tribunal was recently published, showing how Let’s Explore Ltd failed to make reasonable adjustments, contrary to the Equality Act 2010.
Ms Barbra Hall worked 30 hours a week at Let’s Explore, admitting customers into the centre and taking payments. Barbra was based behind a reception desk which was designed as a boat. Although a chair was provided, the role was mainly standing.
Ms Hall had previously had surgery on both hands, because she had Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and had previously been found to be disabled under the Equality Act 2010. Ms Hall claimed to have notified her employer at the start of her employment. The Tribunal accepted her employer knew of her condition.
Ms Hall claimed to have mentioned ergonomic concerns to her employers on a number of occasions. The counter was allegedly too low, with the till sitting at an even lower position. Additionally, a card payment machine was not placed in a cradle, meaning Ms Hall had to pick it up repeatedly to process payments.
Risk assessment requested
Amidst some review meetings to discuss performance concerns, Ms Hall requested a risk assessment, because of her condition. She highlighted that an adjustable chair, which had been provided, was not a solution, as it was not a sitting job. She continued to experience pain and discomfort. She requested help from the Health & Safety Officer.
Following her concerns some photos of the desk were taken and sent to an external risk assessor. Ms Hall was also advised she could send in a doctor’s letter covering the effect of her condition at work. This was duly arranged and her doctor recommended a workstation assessment.
A risk assessment was then carried out, however, at a time when Ms Hall was on holiday. The report from the risk assessment concluded the desk was safe and easy to use.
Crucially, the report stated that referral to occupational health should be made if any user experienced pain or difficulties. The Tribunal decided that Ms Hall’s specific circumstances had not been addressed by the risk assessment at all. Ms Hall then requested an occupational health assessment with specific regard to her condition.
Occupational health recommendations
Nearly a year later, during much of which time Ms Hall remained on sick leave, an occupational health assessment was finally arranged. The outcome of the assessment recommended a further bespoke workstation assessment and recommended four areas of concern and possible adjustments:
- A cradle for the card payment machine should be provided
- Repeated use of a scanner to check-in customers could
aggravate the condition
- There was cramped desk space available when photographing
customers, contributing to pain in her wrists
- The lack of desk space meant she could not hold a phone and take notes at the same time – a telephone headset was suggested
No adjustments for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome made
The Equality Act 2010 imposes a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments, however, what is reasonable is always only ever a legal decision. The Tribunal found that there was no evidence that any adjustments were made or even explored by the employer.
The Tribunal decided that the employer knew of Ms Hall’s disability and that they should have known (especially after doing risk assessments) that the desk was placing Ms Hall at a significant disadvantage.
The Tribunal suggested that changing the height of the shelf on the desk or the height at which the monitor was placed could have been achieved. Alternatively, more space could have been provided.
Furthermore, they concluded that the use of the card payment machine could have been helped by being placed in a cradle. A headset device could have been provided to free up the use of both hands whilst on the phone. There was no evidence before the Tribunal to suggest these adjustments could not be done or why they were not done. The Tribunal said “They were reasonable adjustments”.
The Tribunal also clarified (helpfully for other employers) that adjustments ought to have been considered and implemented within a reasonable period. That period was assessed as being three months.
In summary, two years after she joined, an occupational health assessment was eventually conducted. It advised some very simple steps, which the employer did not act upon.
The claimant was awarded £14,000 for injury to feelings and £20,145 for loss of earnings, making the total compensation awarded £34,145.