Perceived future disability discrimination against job applicants
The EAT has upheld a perceived disability discrimination claim by a job applicant, whose claim was based on an allegation that her assessor had refused… Read more
The EAT has upheld a perceived disability discrimination claim by a job applicant, whose claim was based on an allegation that her assessor had refused to offer her a role because it was perceived that her condition would progress to a disability and require reasonable adjustments in the future.
Mrs Coffey was a police constable in Wiltshire. She had some hearing loss which placed her just below the national threshold for admittance to the police force. However, a practical functionality test was arranged, which showed that Mrs Coffey was able to work without any reasonable adjustments to her role. She then applied for a transfer to the Norfolk Police. Norfolk Police rejected her application outright because of her hearing loss. Mrs Coffey brought a direct disability discrimination claim, based on the Acting Chief Inspector of Norfolk Police’s perception that her hearing loss would result in reasonable adjustments being needed in the future, and therefore create a burden on the Norfolk Police.
The ET and the EAT on appeal held that the Norfolk Acting Chief Inspector had rejected Mrs Coffey’s application on the grounds that reasonable adjustments might be needed in the future. It had been argued by Norfolk Police that it did not consider Mrs Coffey to have a disability at the time of her application (it being the case that she did not need any reasonable adjustments to work) and therefore the decision could not amount to discrimination. However the Equality Act 2010 expressly provides that a person will be deemed to have a disability where the effect of their condition is likely to result in a disability in the future (i.e. progressive / deteriorating conditions) and for protection against perceived disabilities. An applicant with equal ability as Mrs Coffey but whose condition was not anticipated to deteriorate would not have been treated in the same way.
Comment: This is one of the first reported cases addressing perceived disability discrimination. It serves as a reminder to all hiring managers that their perception of an applicant’s future health is as important as their current health when making hiring decisions.
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