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Rejecting applicant for fear of future disability is ‘discriminatory’

It’s discriminatory to reject a job applicant because you perceive that they may develop a disability in the future.

That was the ruling of the Employment Appeal Tribunal in the case of a police officer and Norfolk Constabulary.

The tribunal heard that Lisa Coffey was found to have mild hearing loss and tinnitus when she underwent a medical test while working for Wiltshire Police Service in 2011. She was allowed to continue in her job as a front-line officer after passing a practical functionality test.

However, a problem arose when she applied to transfer to Norfolk in 2013.

During a pre-employment health assessment, her hearing was found to be below the usual standard, so the assessor recommended further tests.

The employer rejected the recommendation and approached another medical adviser instead. He noted that her hearing had not deteriorated since she was tested in Wiltshire and said she would pass a practical test.

However, Norfolk did not pursue the matter any further and rejected her application.

Ms Coffey brought a disability discrimination claim to the Employment Tribunal, which ruled in her favour. It found that she had been rejected because of a perceived disability and that she would require adjustments in the future.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal has upheld that decision.

In giving judgment, it said: "There would be a gap in the protection offered by equality law if an employer, wrongly perceiving that an employee's impairment might well progress to the point where it affected his work substantially, could dismiss him in advance to avoid any duty to make allowances or adjustments."

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law.