As an employer you must be careful not to discriminate against someone because they have a disability. However, what about someone who has a medical condition which isn’t severe enough to amount to a disability under the law? Well surprisingly, a job applicant who was not disabled has won her case of disability discrimination.
Ms Coffey was a police officer in Wiltshire police force. She had some hearing loss, but this was not bad enough for her to be classed as disabled under the Equality Act 2010. Her hearing loss was minimal: just below the recruitment standards for the police force. However, she was accepted to the Wiltshire force after passing a practical hearing test.
Ms Coffey later applied for a transfer to the Norfolk police force. They rejected her because of her hearing without doing any practical test at work, even though that was recommended by occupational health. The Norfolk force thought that her hearing might deteriorate and she would have to do restricted duties, so they rejected her application.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal decided that this decision amounted to disability discrimination. It was based on a perception that Ms Coffey would be disabled in the future. The judge said that there would be a gap in equality law if an employer could dismiss someone before they became disabled to avoid the duty to make reasonable adjustments. That does make sense – but it leaves employers in a more uncertain position than previously.