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Prestige News

A recent landmark ruling has extended powers to protect disabled workers.

The House of Lords has found that people with a physical or mental condition which varies in severity over time should still be termed disabled if there is a good chance the condition would become substantial again in the future.  
By extending the scope of the term “disability”, more people will be entitled to legal protection.
The case was brought by Elizabeth Boyle, who claimed she had been discriminated against by her former employer, SCA Packaging. She had developed vocal nodules which she managed with a strict regime including speech therapy and only speaking very quietly.
Boyle took legal action nine years ago after some partitions near her desk were removed against her wishes and the advice of her surgeon.  The company argued Boyle was not disabled because the condition no longer had an ‘adverse effect on her life', following surgery on the nodules.
The result was she had to raise her voice which potentially risked causing her condition to return. The firm argued Boyle was not disabled as her condition was no longer having an adverse effect on her life.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission intervened following the case of the employee.  Susie Uppal, director of legal enforcement at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: ‘Many people have chronic medical conditions, such as epilepsy, rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes. Often, they do not define themselves as disabled as they can manage the symptoms or their condition may be in remission. But it is important that these people are recognised as being disabled under the law so they get the protection they need to prevent their conditions recurring and their quality of life suffering as a result."

The Lords ruled that in the case of conditions such as diabetes or epilepsy, which are concealed from public view because they are controlled by medication, the disability is insidious. Measures that are taken to treat or correct these conditions, so long as they are effective, enable staff to carry on normal day-to-day activities just like everyone else. But the disability is there nevertheless.

The case now returns to the Northern Ireland Employment Tribunal to consider if Boyle has been the victim of unlawful discrimination based on her disability.


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