UK: Is Type 2 Diabetes a Disability? (Metroline Travel Ltd v Stoute)

28 April 2015

Warren Wayne, David Samuels

In this case, the Claimant had diabetes which he managed primarily by avoiding sugary drinks. In order to determine whether a condition is a disability for the purposes of s6(1) of the Equality Act 2010, an employer must consider whether the individual has a physical or mental impairment, and whether the impairment has a "substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities". When determining this question, it must be assumed that any treatments or corrections have not been applied.

In the immediate case, the Employment Tribunal had found that the Claimant was disabled in accordance with the Equality Act definition. His employer appealed the decision. Considering the matter, the Employment Appeal Tribunal decided that avoiding sugary drinks was not sufficient to amount to a 'treatment or correction', and so it considered the effect of his diabetes in normal circumstances i.e. where he had avoided sugary drinks. On this basis the EAT concluded that the Claimant was found not to have a disability.

In the case of diet-controlled conditions such as diabetes or allergies, it will normally be relevant to consider how severe the impact of the condition is on the individual if they were to abstain from their adapted diet. Where the modifications to behaviour that are required are so small as to hardly interfere with the individual’s life it seems, however, that tribunals will be reluctant to find that there is an underlying disability.

How it impacts

Where an individual has a potentially serious condition, employers need not automatically assume that the individual is disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act. If the condition can be eliminated or minimised by the individual taking very simple steps, and such steps are too trivial to be considered a 'treatment or correction', then the condition will not amount to a disability.

Employers should be wary of reading too much into this decision, however. We would expect only the smallest adjustments to fall within this category of things that are too small to amount to a treatment or correction. This case does, however, confirm that Type 2 diabetes - which affects many employees across the UK - is not necessarily a disability, and it will depend on the extent and effect on the individual in practice.

Authors