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Landmark ruling - failure to make adjustments for mental health

View profile for Suzanne Brookes
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On 14 February 2024, the High Court dismissed an appeal by the University of Bristol against a ruling that it had discriminated against one of its students on the grounds of her disability by failing to make reasonable adjustments to its assessment process, and had therefore contributed to her death. 

The facts of the case are incredibly tragic. Natasha was a physics student who committed suicide on the day that she was required to make an assessed oral presentation in front of over 300 people. Natasha had a known history of depression and social anxiety and staff were aware that she had missed or struggled with oral assessments before. 

The ruling in the University of Bristol case not only has great significance in the higher education sector but more generally, it brings to the spotlight the very important message that organisations need to consider making adjustments when dealing with those who are disabled within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010. 

The net of who might be regarded as disabled under the Equality Act 2010 is a wide one. A disability might be a physical or mental impairment, visible or invisible. It is important that organisations understand how different disabilities affect different people in different ways and consider adapting practices and approaches accordingly. A one-size fits all approach simply will not do. 

In the context of employment law, which I advise on, this might mean redistributing duties, altering hours, and providing additional support. Most importantly, it means having an open dialogue and training staff about these issues. 

The law under the Equality Act 2010 is complex. However, here at Outset, we have a team of experienced HR advisors and specialist employment lawyers who are knowledgeable about the requirements under the Equality Act 2010 and can help you navigate the legal landscape. If you would like more information on this topic, then please get in touch. 

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