The Bury St Edmunds tribunal has ruled that Halfords, the retail chain, discriminated against an MoT tester, Mr P Withers, who has cerebral palsy. As a result of this ruling, the company has been directed to introduce new equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) training, especially targeting management personnel whom the tribunal described as ‘complacent’.

Mr Withers, who suffers from cerebral palsy affecting his left side, was employed at Halfords Autocentre in Milton Keynes from 17 October 2019 to 25 November 2021.

The condition qualified as a “disability” under the Equality Act, which Halfords did not contest. However, the tribunal revealed that after Mr Withers’ condition worsened, leading him to take several periods of sick leave, the company did not make the necessary adjustments to aid him in his role.

Despite Halfords initiating risk assessments to implement suitable adjustments, the tribunal found that Mr Withers was left to devise his own “working methods” to manage his tasks, as the company did not effectively enforce the required modifications.

For instance, to reduce standing time that caused him discomfort, Mr Withers used a stool from the tea room. Other provisions, such as scheduling breaks or offering him a suitable chair, were either inconsistently implemented or delayed.

In January 2021, a record of improvement was given to Mr Withers by his then manager, Stuart George. It contained a warning about future absences. This, combined with other actions by the management, led Mr Withers to feel targeted and insecure about his role, culminating in his resignation on 4 November 2021.

For the period of discrimination, which spanned around 18 months, the tribunal awarded Mr Withers £24,199.45 for injury to feelings, affirming that the events were not isolated incidents. Employment judge Conley emphasised the persistent discriminatory acts by Halfords and the adverse impact they had on Mr Withers, making him feel “insecure” and “anxious” due to his disability-related absences.

What does the future look like?

In light of the case, Alan Lewis, a partner at Constantine Law, commented that employers should not overly focus on complaints about a disabled employee’s perceived work contribution. Instead, the priority should be to determine reasonable steps to assist the disabled worker. Delays in making necessary adjustments, as seen in this case, can heavily influence tribunal decisions.

Responding to the tribunal’s decision, a spokesperson from Halfords expressed their disappointment but reaffirmed their commitment to fair employment for all staff.

Read the full judgement here.


Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons | P Flannagan / Halfords, Marlborough Retail, Craigavon