Nuts in the kitchen – a recipe for disability discrimination?
Perhaps surprisingly, there are not many Employment Tribunal cases that deal with severe allergies. In the recent case of Wheeldon v Marstons plc, however, the issue of whether an allergy constituted a disability was dealt with head-on.
Mr Wheeldon works as a pub chef for Marstons plc, and has a serious peanut allergy. He suffered from a severe allergic reaction at work in October 2011, and has not returned to work since then.
After this incident, Mr Wheeldon raised disability discrimination claims against his employer. He complained that Marstons had failed to make reasonable adjustments in light of his allergy, and directly discriminated against him in an effort to find a medical opinion that he was not disabled. The Employment Tribunal fixed a pre-hearing review to decide whether Mr Wheeldon was disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010.
To qualify as a disabled person, an individual must have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. The key issue for the ET to decide was whether Mr Wheeldon’s allergy was sufficiently substantial to meet this test.
In deciding that Mr Wheeldon was disabled, the ET held that the “evidence speaks for itself”. In particular, it noted that his allergy was potentially fatal and he had to “rule his life” accordingly. It also noted that he carried around adrenaline injectors at all times in case he suffered an anaphylactic shock.
This decision illustrates that allergies, if sufficiently severe, can constitute a disability. Hayfever is an exception to this, however, as the Equality Act 2010 specifically excludes it.
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