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Establishing disability

Is every medical condition a disability? And if an employee mentions a medical condition, does that mean the employer knew that the employee was disabled?

Not necessarily, said the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Mutombo-Mpania v Angard Staffing Solutions. The employer supplied agency staff to Royal Mail. The employee had essential hypertension (high blood pressure) for which he took medication. However, in recruitment paperwork, the employee said that he did not have a disability and did not need adjustments. He worked late shifts at Royal Mail and had done some night shifts. When he was moved to night shifts, the employee wrote saying his ‘health condition’ prevented him working nights. After that, the employee failed to show up on four occasions in less than a month. He was then told he would not be given more work.

The employee brought various tribunal claims, including disability discrimination. But was he disabled? And should the employer have known about that disability? The EAT said that the employee had not proven that he was disabled. He had not given any evidence of the substantial adverse effect that his medical condition had on his day to day activities (which is the requirement for a finding of disability). It was not enough to give his symptoms. He had to link those symptoms to his ability to carry out particular activities or his inability to work nights.

The EAT also agreed that the employer had no express knowledge of any disability. Reference to a ‘health condition’ and a failure to appear for work was not enough to imply constructive knowledge either (though it should have prompted the employer to make further enquiries). A health condition is not the same thing as a disability.

This decision is useful for employers. It is not enough for an individual to have a medical condition. They still need to show how it affects their day to day activities before they gain the protection of the law. Employers would be wise to make further enquiries if employees refer to any health condition.