You have been interviewing candidates for a pharmacy technician post, and have a shortlist of two individuals. During their interview, one candidate reveals they have a degenerative eye condition.
You are aware that this condition can lead to severe sight loss. Your pharmacy runs on a shoestring as it is, and you fear making changes and allowances to accommodate this employee could really harm you financially.
The Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal for employers to discriminate on the grounds of disability, including a perceived disability. This applies to potential employers who are holding interviews and making job offers.
The Act defines a disability as a “physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities”. In the workplace, this includes tasks such as using a telephone or computer, interacting with colleagues, following instructions, driving, and carrying everyday objects.
As a recruiting employer, you may make “limited enquiries” about a candidate’s health or disability, but only to help decide if they can carry out a task that is an essential part of the work. However, candidates – with or without a disability – are under no obligation to tell you details about their health or medical conditions.
In this situation, the fact that you know about this candidate's possible sight loss seems to have been accidental. But you cannot make assumptions about the candidate's condition and prognosis based on your experience of a single, different case.
Making a hiring decision on an assumption about someone's health or the perception that they might become disabled in future is direct disability discrimination. In recent employment case law, similar cases have been taken to a tribunal, and there is no cap on the amount that a tribunal can award. Payouts of many thousands of pounds are not uncommon.
In a case brought to the employment appeal tribunal, a police officer with a hearing problem was refused a transfer because it was perceived that it might constitute a disability at some future time – a decision that was deemed to be unlawful. At a tribunal, an employer has to prove that they have rules in place to prevent disability discrimination in its recruitment and selection.
Of course, every new hire comes with risks. But if the candidate with an eye condition is the stronger candidate and you offer them the position, discuss with them whether they require you to make any of what the law describes as ‘reasonable adjustments’ in the pharmacy, to avoid them being put at a disadvantage compared with a non-disabled staff member.
If, later on, you find that you need to make some adjustments around the technician’s physical limitations, discuss with them what they need. For a pharmacy employee with vision problems, it could be as simple as an adjustment of lighting in the dispensary, or adjusting the settings on computer software to help them read words on a screen.
If you have got the right person in the right job, making some reasonable adjustments for them should be a collaborative process that benefits you both. It will make it easier for your technician to do their work, which will improve their productivity. It may not have to cost you financially in the long run.
Therefore, consider both candidates on the merit of their qualifications, experience and how they came across at interview. Those are the only criteria you need to hire the right person for the job.
- Acas – disability discrimination in the workplace
- Gov.uk – disability rights
- Equality Act 2010 – the legal definition of disability
This HR dilemma was originally posted on the Accord Academy website, part of Accord Healthcare Ltd
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