The Land Registry operated a bonus scheme which paid out £900 to eligible employees in 2012. One of the rules of the scheme was that those subject to a warning in respect of sickness absence during the relevant year were ineligible to receive a bonus. Those with disciplinary warnings could be ignored at the manager’s discretion but no such discretion existed for the sickness absence warning. The Land Registry had already made adjustments to the usual trigger points at which the sickness warning procedure was engaged.
Five employees brought a claim for disability discrimination when they were excluded from the scheme due to their sickness absence accrued because of their disability. The EAT in the case of Land Registry v Houghton upheld the Tribunal’s decision that the bonus scheme was discriminatory arising out of a disability under s15 of the Equality Act 2010. The rule to exclude those who received a warning in respect of sickness absence during that year gave rise to unfavourable treatment as it was an automatic exclusion even for disability related absences and it could not be objectively justified because managers had no discretion under the scheme. It was irrelevant that the HR officer who made the decision not to pay the bonus had no knowledge of the employees’ disabilities. It was critical that the disability-related absences had led to the non-payment.