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When Do Cumulative Medical Conditions Amount to Disability?

Many medical conditions amount to disabilities for the purposes of employment law, but matters can become more complicated when the combined effect of more than one condition is considered. The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) tackled that issue in the case of a man who suffered from both hearing loss and impaired movement in his arm and shoulder.

The man worked for Citizens Advice until he was dismissed by reason of what his employer said was redundancy. He launched Employment Tribunal (ET) proceedings, claiming unfair dismissal, breach of contract and disability discrimination. An issue in respect of the latter claim, as to whether or not he was disabled, was dealt with as a preliminary issue.

The ET initially concluded that he was not a disabled person. However, after he successfully appealed and the case was remitted to the same ET, it concluded that his shoulder and arm impairment was a disability within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010. However, it went on to find that the cumulative effect of that condition and his hearing loss did not amount to a disability in its own right. The effects of the two impairments were independent and did not add to or impact on each other.

In challenging that ruling before the EAT, the man pointed to medical evidence that his shoulder impairment and hearing loss had the combined effect of interfering with his sleep. That in turn was said to have harmed his mental health to the point that he had taken refuge in alcohol. In rejecting his appeal, however, the EAT found that the ET had adequately analysed the issue and reached a permissible conclusion.