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Employment tribunal rules that a worker with anxiety should be allowed to listen to music when they are at work

In the case of Ms Hanif v the Department for Work and Pensions, the employee won a disability discrimination claim after she was told by a manager that she could not listen to music using headphones while she was working.

The claimant suffers from anxiety and argued that music helped her relax and alleviated her symptoms. The tribunal was content that she cleared the disability hurdle necessary to bring a disability discrimination claim for a breach of the reasonable adjustments duty under the Equality Act 2010 (the equivalent right in Northern Ireland is the Disability Discrimination Act 1995).

The reasonable adjustments duty under the legislation is triggered where an employer knows of the employee’s disability and the fact that they, as a disabled employee, are at a substantial disadvantage (in relation to any policy, criteria or practice applied in the workplace or in relation to the physical feature of the premises) compared to a non-disabled person. Once the reasonable adjustments duty is triggered, an employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments to remove the disadvantage. It is important to note that the employer does not have to make all possible adjustments, only those which it is deemed reasonable for them to make.

In assessing the reasonableness of an adjustment, the tribunal will take into consideration the extent to which the step would prevent the disadvantage, the practicability for the employer, the costs incurred, disruption to the employer’s activities, the employer’s financial state and other resources, as well as the nature and the size of the employer’s undertaking.

The tribunal ruled that the employer had "deprived her of a coping mechanism" that helped her to manage anxiety and stress levels and thus had "failed to make reasonable adjustments" for her condition. This put her at a disadvantage compared with those without a disability because those people were much less likely to experience anxiety in the workplace. The tribunal also found that the disadvantage was more than minor or trivial because anxiety had the potential to affect the claimant’s productivity at work, as well as her mood.

To conclude, the employer had failed to make reasonable adjustments and therefore discriminated against the claimant on disability grounds by not allowing her to listen to music at work.