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BT discriminated against diabetic worker

The Employment Appeals Tribunal has upheld a ruling against BT under the UK's Disability Discrimination Act in which a diabetic call centre worker was discouraged from leaving his desk to test his blood sugar levels because he would fail to meet performance targets.19 Sep 2005

Advert: Phishing conference, London, 27th October 2005Mr J Pousson argued that BT failed to provide a stable place for blood testing and injecting. And when tested himself at his desk, he offended his colleagues. As a result he was reluctant to test himself and suffered a hypoglycaemic attack in August 2001. This caused him to fall and hit his head. He sustained a subdural haemorrhage and never returned to work with BT.

The company knew about Mr Pousson's condition when it first employed him as one of 150 workers in its Customer Service Team at Dundas House, Middlesbrough. He worked five hour shifts and was allowed a total of 15 minutes for unscheduled breaks, calculated in seconds. So if he logged on for 17,100 seconds there would be 100% adherence; but if he logged on for less than 90% of that time his adherence was regarded as unacceptable.

BT's system automatically generated reports when thresholds were triggered and, in Mr Pousson's case, triggered a poor performance procedure. He received warnings on at least four occasions over a two year period for absences from his desk and for days off sick.

Mr Pousson was examined by Dr Almond of BT's Occupational Health Service. Her report showed that Mr Pousson had a history of difficulty in controlling his condition and in keeping his blood sugar within a stable range.

Dr Almond had noted that diabetes sufferers can be more prone to general viruses and infections and that these conditions can last longer or be more debilitating than in somebody without diabetes. She said that Mr Pousson's sickness absence would be likely to exceed a healthy colleague's because of his disability – and told BT that a reasonable adjustment under the Disability Discrimination Act would be to consider: an allowance for Mr Pousson's sickness absence; time off-line to test himself; access to food and drink at his place of work; or a different shift pattern to assist him in controlling his condition.

But BT ignored these recommendations, according to the Tribunal.

The company had tried to argue that Mr Pousson's absences had been unrelated to his diabetes; but the Tribunal found this "utterly untenable," given that BT had in Dr Almond's report "the clearest unequivocal medical advice" to the contrary.

The Tribunal said: "As soon as Dr Almond's report had been issued someone with the necessary authority, competence and understanding of disability should have taken over the management of this situation and issued the necessary advice and guidance to the line managers."

BT's appeal – on grounds that the Tribunal adjudicated on issues not raised by Mr Pousson and that it made findings not supported by the evidence or which were perverse – was dismissed last month.

Earlier this month, new Government figures revealed that the number of people in the UK with diabetes has broken through the two million barrier for the first time.

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