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Diabetes and Discrimination

Ms Carr, who suffers from type 1 diabetes, was recruited as a Fleet Administrator. During the recruitment process, she was not asked about any pre-existing medical conditions. Her condition came to light in a post recruitment questionnaire and a discussion with her line managers. She was subsequently interviewed by HR for failing to tell the company she was diabetic at interview stage. Following various incidents, Ms Carr was dismissed for poor performance. She brought claims for disability discrimination.

Was Ms Carr subjected to disability discrimination?

Carr v Weston Homes plc  

Ms Carr, who suffers from type 1 diabetes, was recruited as a Fleet Administrator to manage the employer’s fleet of some 280 cars. During the recruitment process, she was not asked about any pre-existing medical conditions.

Having received a job offer, she was sent a welcome pack which included a medical questionnaire, asking her if she suffered from any disabilities. She considered her diabetes to be under control and answered no to that question. Part of the form asked if she suffered from any medical conditions and she disclosed diabetes as a condition.

On her first day with the company, she was taken out to lunch by her line manager and another company employee. Throughout the course of the lunch she was asked if she would like a glass of wine to which she explained she did not drink alcohol because she had diabetes, alerting both individuals to her illness for the first time.

She was invited to an interview shortly after with HR for failing to tell the company she was diabetic at the interview stage. She was asked various questions relating to her medication, how frequently she tested her blood and what she would do in an emergency brought on by her condition. She mentioned that she kept a bottle of orange juice handy in case of falling into hyperglycaemic shock. She alleged that she was asked by a company representative at the meeting to show her the bottle.

Another incident unfolded where Ms Carr was taken around the office by her line manager to inform first aiders of her condition.

Following an incident in which it was alleged that a car was not cleaned on time, Ms Carr was invited to a meeting at which she was advised that she had been spoken to about her competence several times and that as the company had seen no improvement, her contract of employment would be terminated with immediate effect.

Ms Carr brought claims against her former employer for direct disability discrimination and disability related harassment. 

Decision

Throughout the course of her employment it was determined by the Tribunal that she had faced ‘excessive, invasive and heavy-handed questioning’ about her condition. The Employment Tribunal, whilst acknowledging that Ms Carr’s performance had not been perfect, determined that the main reason for dismissal was her disability, and that a comparator with the same level of competence but without her disability would not have been dismissed.

It went on to say that it considered that a comparator, who made the same level of mistakes that she did, would have been given feedback, opportunities to improve, and ultimately would have had their appointment confirmed.

Comment

Employers need to treat employees with disabilities appropriately.

The case should serve as a useful reminder for employers to treat any disclosure relating to a disability sensitively, whether on a job application form, medical questionnaire or at interview. Such disclosures should only be shared on a need to know basis and should be treated appropriately by HR or an employee’s line manager.

If you have any queries about disability discrimination or any other HR queries please do not hesitate to contact the employment team on 01228 552600 or 01524 548494.

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