Disability Discrimination: Another Layer?

Disability discrimination is something that is bought to the Employment Tribunal’s attention over and over again. This was no different in the recent case of Ahmed v Cardinal Hume Academies. However, this case seems more unusual as it arose out of an employer’s attempt to accommodate a disability that led to accusations of disability discrimination.
In this case, Ahmed suffered from dyspraxia meaning he could not write for longer than a few minutes without enduring severe pain. He was offered a Teach First placement with the school and had several meetings with the head teacher to discuss how they could accommodate his disability. These meetings which appeared to be an excellent precautionary measure to avoid disability discrimination backfired massively. Ahmed claimed that the head teacher had interrogated him and acted in a very hostile manner. As well as this, in a subsequent meeting the next day he was sent home by the school so they could work out how big a problem his disability was and how they could accommodate him. Ahmed resigned as a result.
Ahmed bought claims of unlawful harassment, discrimination and unfair constructive dismissal. The Employment Tribunal rejected these claims and Ahmed appealed. He alleged that the Employment Tribunal did not properly apply s26 of the Equality Act 2010 to decide if there had been unlawful harassment and that they failed to give effect to its own finding that Ahmed’s suspension was his difficulty in handwriting in relation to the discrimination claim. However, the Employment Appeal Tribunal rejected Ahmed’s appeal and stated that the Employment Tribunal decision was correct.
Whilst this case found that the school had not discriminated against Ahmed it is another glaring warning case to employers. Here, despite best efforts to avoid disability discrimination their methods of doing so meant they only narrowly escaped liability. Meetings about how to accommodate the disability of a future employee are vital but they must be conducted properly and in a manner that is not in themselves discriminatory. As demonstrated by this case, this appears to be a much thinner line than anticipated.
As an employer you must ensure that if you do a similar thing the questions you ask and how you pose those questions are extremely important. One dodgy question could cost you greatly! Whilst we would encourage employers to take up a similar practice we would stress that you are confident that you are conducting yourself in a completely unbiased and transparent way to avoid being the subject of disability discrimination claims before a person is even your employee!