Mr Wheeldon, 30, is a chef and relief manager at the 14th century Whittington Inn, just outside Birmingham. He recently discovered that he has an allergy to nuts and has taken steps to change his life-style, his diet and his shopping habits because of the allergy – even just the smell and touch of all types of nuts makes him ill and causes him to experience a skin disorder. He was rushed to hospital last year after coming into contact with nuts and subsequently submitted an Employment Tribunal claim for disability discrimination after he alleged that his employer had failed to make suitable adjustments to his workplace to allow him to work without coming into contact with nuts.
The Employment Tribunal accepted the claim but a live issue in the case was whether Mr Wheeldon’s allergy to nuts could constitute a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010, and whether he was therefore entitled to claim for disability discrimination. His employer stated that it was not and the matter went to a Pre-Hearing Review in early April 2013. The Employment Judge at the Pre-Hearing Review, Mr Bryn Lloyd, stated that he had not dealt with such a matter before but that he considered that Mr Wheeldon’s allergy to nuts could constitute a disability – and that the matter could therefore proceed to a full hearing. Employment Judge Lloyd described Mr Wheeldon as a credible witness who was compelled to alter his lifestyle after discovering that he had a severe allergy to nuts.
In order to succeed with a disability discrimination claim for an employer’s failure to make reasonable adjustments, a Claimant must show the following:
- That they are experiencing a mental or physical disability;
- That a practice, criterion or provision (“PCP”) in the workplace is putting them at a substantial disadvantage as compared to a non-disabled person; and
- The employer fails to make a reasonable adjustment to that PCP to prevent such a disadvantage
One of the crucial issues that can arise in a disability discrimination claim is whether the Claimant is “disabled” for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. Some disabilities automatically are deemed to qualify (such as cancer, for example) but – as with the case above – it may sometimes be a more complex issue. In order to successfully claim that they have a disability, a Claimant must show that:
- Their employer knew of their disability and that the disability was likely to be a disadvantage
- That they are experiencing some form of mental or physical impairment (which isn’t caused by alcoholism or drug dependency)
- That the impairment affects their participation in professional life on a daily or frequent basis
- That the effect of the impairment is more than trivial; and
- That the disability is “long-term” – either lasting for equal to or more than 12 months, or for the rest of their life