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If Bob requests a reasonable adjustment from a member of a business’s staff, and they refuse on the grounds that they cannot do such things according to their organisation’s internal logic despite the requirements of the National law without the approval of their organisation’s head office, is this refusal a breach of the requirement of the equality act to grant a reasonable adjustment?

For example (loosely based on a real life scenario): Alice has diabetes a legal disability. She goes to an ice cream stall that runs a promotional deal of £0.99 soft serve cones for the first 99 customers per day, where the soft serve has a low calorie sugar free I option for the ice cream but the cone is covered in sugary chocolate so she wouldn’t be able to have it. She requests to be given the promotional deal with the ice cream in a cup instead of a cone as a reasonable adjustment for her to equally benefit from the promotion after standing in the queue rather than being forced to pay £5 for a non soft serve ice cream.

The server insists that their boss is extremely strict that no modifications can be made to the promotional deal to incentivise people to buy the other products and the promotional item is to be strictly limited to the exact formulation advertised with no modifications or adjustments made.

Alternatively: Barbara uses a wheel chair and bought a ticket to a cinema with a “strict no late admission” policy. The nearest station with step free access had its lift out of order so she found that upon arriving and had to go back on the train to the next step free accessible station causing her to be late. The usher insists that the policy is strict and no exceptions are to be made to it. Barbara cites the EA2010’s requirement to provide her reasonable adjustment. The usher reckons that this legal speak is above his pay grade and ought to be directed to the head office or legal department by which time the film showing will have been long over causing Barbara a wasted journey. Has Barbara been discriminated against by the cinema by an effective refusal to provide reasonable adjustments?

Is it on Bob (not an employee or member of this organisation so presumably unfamiliar with its structure and processes) to obtain contact avenues for the head office in order to submit his request even though he already missed out on its benefit for that day? Or have they now definitely abrogated their duty to make or at least consider requests for reasonable adjustments?

I suppose that underlying this question is some sense of comparison to the data protection act wherein subject access requests may be submitted to (and must be thus accepted and relayed by for appropriate consideration) any member of an organisation with whom one may come into contact.

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    Are you asking if the organisation is breaking the law when the organisation's employee refuses to make a reasonable adjustment?
    – Lag
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 11:52
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    It depends as it's not necessarily unreasonable for a member of staff who is neither a budget holder nor empowered to authorise expenditure, to defer to a senior manager who is.
    – user35069
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 12:58
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    "I can not decide if that is a reasonable adjustment" is not a refusal at all.
    – Trish
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 13:18
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    Does the organisation prohibit contacting head office or something? Feels like context has been deliberately omitted. Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 13:22
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    @Seekinganswers Gonna be harsh here- you'd get better answers if you laid off the purple prose and actually asked the question you want answers to. Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 10:13

2 Answers 2

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Lets for the sake of understanding take an example we can talk about. Let's say Bob has problems with his back and needs a desk that he can either sit or stand at.

Every company has procedures. Bob cannot just walk up to a random employee and demand they pull a standing desk out of their pocket like a magician. Referring Bob to the entity in the company that is handling such requests is perfectly normal procedure.

For example, Alice the team lead, when questioned by Bob about his standing desk required as a reasonable ajustment, is well within the law to say "oh, those requests are handled centrally by the head office. I can show you the form on the intranet where you can send your request".

This is not a refusal at all. This is helping Bob to get what he needs.

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  • Again, reasonable. Expecting people to pull standing desks or noise cancelling headphones out of their ass at a moment's notice is neither reasonable or hygienic. Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 20:11
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It's not necessarily unlawful for an employee to have to seek authorisation from senior colleagues to make a decision, to ask senior colleagues to make a decision, or ask other colleagues to make something happen.

Making a reasonable adjustment may be outside the employee's remit or competence. Suppose the reasonable adjustment involves installing a wheelchair ramp or editing a website. With respect to Alice the cashier, Bob the shelf-stacker or Carla the accountant, it's not reasonable to expect them to do that. The law doesn't have the effect of obliging them to do that. The law obliges the organisation to do that.

Making a reasonable adjustment may cost money. Not all employees have access to the company credit card or authorisation to use company funds for purposes outside of their remit.

Making a reasonable adjustment may take significant time and involve some disruption. Not all employees have the authority to make decisions about this.

Not all employees have the authority or competence to decide what is a reasonable adjustment. To make a potentially lawful or unlawful decision, no less. Even senior colleagues may want to ask a lawyer.

The company might have a policy to send a specialist to consult with the person asking for a reasonable adjustment. This could be better for the person than having an employee make that decision regardless of the person.

It may well be lawful for an employee to say, "no, I can't make that happen right now, but I will contact head office about it after our conversation."

It depends.

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    It depends. If Bob does ask the senior manager, who apologises and makes the reasonable adjustment happen as soon as possible, and disciplines and trains the employee to be more helpful, then I speculate that a court would not say the organisation behaved unlawfully. If on the other hand Bob has to keep asking different employees, climbing the hierarchy all the way to the MD or CEO, and ultimately the organisation just doesn't make the reasonable adjustment, then I speculate a court would say the organisation behaved unlawfully.
    – Lag
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 16:36
  • When I was a shelf-stacker, if a customer had asked me about making a reasonable adjustment for them, I hope I would have been more helpful, certainly more polite, but I would have had no idea who to speak to on their behalf, and I imagine I would have directed or taken them to the customer services desk. That doesn't seem like behaviour that should get the organisation into trouble.
    – Lag
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 16:43

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