People with anxiety should be allowed to listen to music as they work, an employment tribunal has ruled.
Misbah Hanif, a former presenting officer at the Department for Work and Pensions in Stockton, Teesside, has won a discrimination claim after her manager told her she could not listen to songs through headphones while she was in the office.
Ms Hanif, who suffers from anxiety, argued that music helped her relax and alleviated her symptoms.
She may now receive compensation after an employment judge agreed that the DWP had "deprived her of a coping mechanism" and "failed to make reasonable adjustments" for her condition.
Adele Aspden concluded: "We have accepted that [Ms Hanif] found listening to music helped her to cope with stress and counter feelings of anxiety and that this, in turn, was likely to aid her productivity.
"We find that the [DWP’s] practice of not permitting listening to music deprived [her] of a coping mechanism that helped her to manage anxiety and stress levels.
"That put [Ms Hanif] at a disadvantage compared with those without a disability because those people were much less likely to experience anxiety in the workplace.
"The disadvantage was more than minor or trivial because anxiety had the potential to affect [her] productivity at work, as well as her mood."
Ms Hanif had previously been told she could use her headphones at work.
However, after one of her colleagues complained that he found it hard to communicate with her, she was told she had to stop.
"Initially, [her manager Julie Hepperle] said [Ms Hanif] could listen to music provided she did not get caught," said the judge.
"This was an adjustment to the usual practice, in that it went some way towards mitigating the effect of the rule.
"Tacitly condoning [Ms Hanif’s] listening to music provided she did it discreetly and did not get caught was not the same as giving [Ms Hanif] express permission to do so and the failure to give that express permission was a breach of the respondent’s duty to make reasonable adjustments.
"That breach was compounded when Ms Hepperle later told the claimant she must not listen to music."
While listening to music can increase concentration, it can also impact productivity if the songs being played are too imposing.
Quiet or instrumental music has been found to aid the completion of tasks, whereas louder music can hinder concentration.
Ms Hanif’s depression and anxiety led to her taking a number of weeks off work at the end of 2017. When she returned, she formulated a "back to work plan" with her manager.
Ms Hanif said during the meeting that she used music as a coping mechanism to distract herself when she was around other people and struggled to control her emotions.
She was initially told that it would not be permitted by the DWP, as her job involved the careful preparation of tribunals and needed extreme concentration.
A private agreement was then made between Ms Hanif and her manager for her to use the headphones, so long as she did so discreetly.
The judge concluded Ms Hanif’s claims of direct discrimination relating to her disability, and of harassment and victimisation, were not well founded.
But she agreed the DWP had failed to make reasonable adjustments and therefore discriminated against Ms Hanif by not allowing her to listen to music at work.
A DWP spokesman said: "We accept the judgment and as a committed inclusive employer are working hard to ensure that all colleagues are treated fairly and compassionately."