The pressure under which the UK’s legion of delivery drivers work is well known. As an Employment Tribunal (ET) ruling showed, however, workers’ disabilities must never be ignored when assigning them a reasonable workload.
A delivery driver who was disabled by learning difficulties, severe hearing impairment and dysarthria, a speech disorder, was dismissed following a report that he had been filmed throwing delivery boxes from the back of his lorry. On the day of the incident, he had been detailed to deliver 133 parcels, including 89 to one of his employer’s premier customers. The latter delivery was subject to a tight deadline.
Upholding his disability discrimination claim, the ET noted that he had to load his vehicle without assistance and was under a great deal of pressure. The truck did not have a tailgate to raise and lower parcels, and a broken ladder made it hard for him to gain access to the vehicle. It was frustration that led him to behave in the way he did and, as the deadline approached, he was reduced to tears.
The ET found that his strange behaviour in throwing the boxes to the ground was occasioned by his hearing, speech and learning difficulties, which caused him to become frustrated and confused in pressurised and stressful situations. His disabilities significantly influenced his unfavourable treatment, which took the form of suspension, disciplinary proceedings and, ultimately, dismissal.
The employer’s plea that his dismissal was justified in order to protect its reputation and relationship with its priority customers was rejected. Proportionate steps short of dismissal could have achieved those legitimate aims. He had expressed remorse and the only reasonable and proportionate conclusion for the employer to reach was that the incident was a one-off and unlikely to recur.
In also finding that the employer failed to make reasonable adjustments to cater for his disabilities, the ET found that he was treated like any other driver. Given the size and resources of the employer, reasonable steps could have been taken to relax deadlines, modify his route or reduce the number of his deliveries.
The procedures followed were unreasonable and unfair. His personnel files were not considered; he was given insufficient notice of a rushed and minimal investigation and he was denied a suitable representative at the disciplinary hearing. The amount of his compensation would be assessed at a further hearing, if not agreed.