From time-to-time employees will make claims that something about their work environment places them at risk compared to everybody else, because of their own particular medical needs. This might be someone who finds the particular temperature a problem, the lighting, the lack of or amount of natural daylight, the distance to the bathrooms, or something about the working environment that makes an aspect of their medical condition worse.
When you face such complaints, the employer needs to understand why the employee concerned is making the complaints that they are. What is the nature of their medical condition? How is it effected by the particular issue that they’re complaining about? What is the medical evidence to suggest that their assertion in this regard is correct?
You may need to work alongside health & safety advisors to assess the particular working conditions and whether the employee concerned is being placed at any special risk because of their condition. There would be an analysis with specialist risk assessments, similar to ones you have to undertake when any employee says they’re pregnant.
Your obligation to make reasonable adjustments for somebody with a disability occurs when they are at a substantial disadvantage to a non-disabled employee. The Equality Act advises us to understand the position from the particular employee’s circumstances to understand why a particular workplace factor may cause them difficulty.
It is worth noting that an Employment Appeal Tribunal took an employer friendly approach in a case bought against the Metropolitan Police in Hendon Command Control Centre, by an employee called Jennifer Browne. She suffered from moderate persistent asthma and at one point was temporarily placed in a separate office where she suffered no ill-health. It was impractical for her to remain working in that area and so she was moved back into the open plan. She had further periods of absence, but she equally had further periods of no further ill-health. The MET carried out various environmental tests at the office to check that it fell within approved guidelines. The employee argued that the open plan working put her at a substantial disadvantage as a person with asthma compared to others, and she contended that a reasonable adjustment would have been to change her working area to one where she could control the temperature. The Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled that she’d failed to show that the office design put her at any substantial disadvantage compared with anybody else, and they did not require the employer to do anything specific.
Clearly these sorts of cases are decided on a case-by-case basis and you should take any challenge seriously. Hopefully this case will show you that sensible rules apply, and the employee would have to have some evidence of the impact on their health before you would be expected to change things. This might be a medical report.