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Allergy or Disability?

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Allergy or Disability?

Although the summer is proving to be somewhat of a let-down in terms of the weather, we are in the throes of hayfever season. There are an estimated 18 million hayfever sufferers in the UK and so the chances of most businesses employing at least person with a pollen allergy are quite high.
Allergies generally, and not just pollen allergies can sometimes be seen as things which suffers just have to ‘deal with’. Individuals take personal steps to manage their allergies but when does an employer also have an obligation to help out? The answer to this question is, when an allergy can be said to constitute a disability.
Importantly, hayfever is expressly excluded from the terms of the Equality Act 2010 but other allergies can fit within the statutory definition of ‘disability’. The statutory definition in this regard is broad and a person will be considered to have the protection of the Equality Act if they can show that a condition is: a physical or mental impairment, which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Allergies, especially those which are persistent and life threatening, such as an intolerance to nuts, could therefore seemingly easily satisfy this definition.
Assuming that an allergy can be said to satisfy the separate elements of the definition, the key issue is likely to be whether the effect of the individual’s allergy on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities is substantial.  It is important to bear in mind that day-to-day activities are the activities the individual does on a regular or daily basis, not just those activities relating to their job
Consideration to both the effect of the allergy and its restrictions and the extent of any allergic reaction will be necessary when determining whether an allergy has a substantial effect of the individual’s ability to carry out their day to day activities. In some cases, such a reaction can be life-threatening and would clearly affect ability to undertake day to day activities. However, if the reaction to the allergy is mild, this may not affect the individual’s day to day activities to the extent that it could be classed as a disability.
In practice, employers should be aware that employees with allergies could also be classed as disabled persons. Where employers are classed as disabled this places the employer under additional obligations when managing the employee’s condition and any absence resulting from it.
If you would like any advice on disabilities or discrimination, please contact us on 01274 864999.

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