Consultant editor Darren Newman considers a recent Employment Appeal Tribunal decision involving the concept of diabetes as a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. The case involved an individual with type 2 diabetes largely controlled by avoiding sugary drinks.
Disability discrimination cases deal with a wide range of conditions, and the temptation is to divide these conditions into those that are, and those that are not, disabilities. However, this is not a very helpful approach.
Disability is not a medical category; it cannot simply be diagnosed. It is a legal and social concept that depends not just on a person’s physical or mental condition, but also on the effect that this has on his or her life.
Rather than considering whether or not a condition amounts to a disability, we should look at the effect that it has on the person and then decide whether or not that person is disabled.
So, although the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) – in Metroline Travel Ltd v Stoute – has held that type 2 diabetes is not a disability, we should regard this with caution.
On close inspection, the case is a little more complicated than the headlines would have us believe. In the first place, what the EAT actually did was to overturn an employment tribunal finding that type 2 diabetes must by its very nature be regarded as a disability. Insofar as the tribunal said that, it was clearly wrong.
The EAT also acknowledged that type 2 diabetes can be a disability depending on the impact that it has on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. What has raised eyebrows in the employment law world, however, is the basis on which the EAT held that the claimant in this particular case was not disabled.