January 31, 2018

Discrimination Based on a Perceived Disability

In The Chief Constable of Norfolk v Coffey [2017] UKEAT 0260_16_1912 the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) considered whether someone who was not disabled could succeed in a disability discrimination claim on the basis that they were perceived to have a disability.

Mrs Coffey, a police constable for the Wiltshire police force, suffered from a hearing impairment which did not meet the legal test of disability under U.K. law. Following her application to be transferred to the Norfolk police force, she attended a health assessment which found that her hearing was just outside the standards for recruitment but recommended that she should have an “at work” test. However, instead of carrying out this test, Norfolk police rejected her transfer application as they were concerned that her hearing might in the future deteriorate to the extent that she could end up on restricted duties.

Mrs Coffey brought a discrimination claim on the basis that her hearing impairment had been perceived by Norfolk police to be a disability. The EAT confirmed that Mrs Coffey could bring a claim on this basis. It further found that she had been discriminated against because Norfolk police had rejected her transfer application on the basis of their perception that she had a progressive condition which amounted to a disability.

This case is important as it is the first decision from the EAT which upholds a claim for perceived disability discrimination. It highlights the fact that employers should not make assumptions about an employee’s condition and, where in doubt, should obtain appropriate legal and medical advice.

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