Mr Hamish Drummond became an employee of HMRC in 2002. In 2018 his position changed, and he was employed as a Compliance Worker in the Hidden Economy department. This role involved looking into companies that did not declare their whole income to HMRC.
Part of his new role involved the need for Mr Drummond to travel to the sites of the companies he was investigating. HMRC were made aware that he could not drive as he suffered from episodes of fainting. He claimed this was not a problem as his colleagues who were also attending the meetings would drive him and if this was not available then there was specific funding that would allow a support worker to drive him.
HMRC advertised for a number of higher-grade case workers in 2020. Mr Drummond was advised by his manager to apply for this higher role. It was stated in the job advert that having a driving licence was a requirement of this role but that adjustments would be made for a disabled person. When Mr Drummond submitted his application, he explained that he did not have one. At this point his application was rejected.
When Mr Drummond explained the funding available, he was once again informed that a licence was a requirement of the role. Mr Drummond continued to question this decision and was not satisfied with the answers he received. He was also told that he was not at a disadvantage as he was able to apply for other roles within the organisation. He raised a grievance and was ultimately given the same answer.
Mr Drummond raised a claim for direct and indirect disability discrimination. This was upheld by the Employment Tribunal. The Tribunal was critical of the fact that there was no Equality Act assessment of the requirement for a licence. The organisation had not checked if this would disproportionately affect those with protected characteristics. HMRC claimed that too many current employees did not have a licence and they required an employee that did have one. However, the Tribunal was not presented with any evidence as to how many employees had driving licences. This was despite the fact that this information was readily available and collected annually.
The lesson here for employers is to analyse how any job requirements or policy changes would affect those with protected characteristics. If this is not considered then there is the potential for a successful claim of indirect discrimination which, in this case, ended up costing HMRC around £20,000.
If you have any questions on any of the issues raised in the above article, please contact Natalia Milne.