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Answered: Can you afford to hire a technician with a disability?

You are aware a prospective pharmacy technician has a condition that causes severe vision problems
You are aware a prospective pharmacy technician has a condition that causes severe vision problems

Did you have enough HR knowledge to solve this month's dilemma?

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.

Result

Should you hire the candidate that does not have a disability?
Yes
58%
No
42%
Total votes: 38
The answer

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.

Further information:

  • 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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7 Comments
Question: 
How would you deal with this HR dilemma?

Leon The Apothecary, Student

The law states that you absolutely cannot discriminate against someone for having a disability, and you must make all reasonable adjustments to allow them to work. A larger company, like a multiple, would be expected to do more compared to a small independent.

Dave Downham, Manager

Question is missing a key point - how do the candidates rate compared to each other? On the assumption that they are equally skilled, then you would make up a reason to go for the non-disabled candidate. Sorry, but that's how it works.

Thomas Wilde, Community pharmacist

My understanding would be if they were unable to do their job as they couldn't read the labels, prescription etc and there aren't any reasonable changes you can make that would enable them to work,which I can't think of in this scenario. You can then not hire them based on their inability to do the job. The legal phasing around 'reasonable adjustments' is somewhat grey but usually means things that are not overly expensive and would be considered be a lay person as resonable. An example would be someone with dwarfism. Obviously most pharmacies are not desgined for this and in current states would make it harder for them to do their work however it would be considered a reasonable adjustment for example to buy steps that allowed them to get to the counter or an extendable grabber to get boxes of shelves. So in that case you would not be allowed to dismiss their application based on disability. Ultimately if you told the person no simply because of their sight you would be open to legal action but if you told them that you had considered the application fairly but that there was no way of making adjustments to the pharmacy that allowed them to work then you would in theory be covered. 

david williams, Community pharmacist

Risk assesment needed here. Try defending an error in reading the prescription / label, by the technician, in court, after being told that their eyesight was poor. Why put your organisation and your judgement at risk? Unfair to candidate,? maybe, Unwise to employ, almost certainly!

Alexander The Great, Community pharmacist

If you had 2 people with the exact same qualifications, personality, gender and age, one had the above condition and one did not, you would chose the one without. Simple business needs. Illegal it may appear to be, but in the long term your business needs should come first.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

And if you were honest with the individual that was why they were not chosen, I would expect a Disability discrimination lawsuit under the Equality Act 2010 at your local Employment Tribunal.

In 2017, the maximum award for this was £302,258.

A B, Community pharmacist

Gender and age? Now you are throwing sexism and ageism into the mix!

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