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House of Commons employee with musculoskeletal condition wins disability discrimination claim after other staff used her hot desk

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

In the case of Ms A Baker v House of Commons Commission Alison Baker worked at the House of Commons from 1991. In 2005 she started to experience musculoskeletal symptoms and the Parliamentary Health and Wellbeing Service team recommended equipment for her to use at work. This equipment included an orthopaedic chair, specialist keyboard, mouse, number pad and reading/writing slope. Ms Baker’s orthopaedic chair was able to swivel, to reduce the need for her to twist her back or neck.

Due to overcrowding in the office, managers allowed other staff to use her workstation while she was away for short periods between June and September 2018. She would have to readjust the workspace and chair after each time it was used by someone else. When she left a ‘polite’ note asking staff not to sit there in her absence, bosses started disciplinary proceedings against her for what they saw as an ‘unreasonable’ request.

The tribunal ruled that while keeping the desk reserved was not reasonable in the long-term, it was reasonable in the short term “given that the Claimant would have had to readjust her equipment each time it was altered.”

Judge Brown said: ‘The House of Commons Commission had a practice of allowing hot desking on all desks. It accepted Ms Baker would have been put at a substantial disadvantage by this practice. Her workstation and equipment had been adapted for her needs, to prevent injury and discomfort.”

It said that the disciplinary action was a “heavy-handed and punitive response to the Claimant’s note”. A remedy hearing is set to take place at a later date.

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