Autism diagnosis resulted in disability discrimination claim

A police officer was blocked from applying to train for a role carrying firearms because of autism and dyslexia – despite “overwhelming” positive feedback from her supervisor, a tribunal has ruled. It has found that she was directly discriminated against when Cumbria Police denied her application.

The Police Officer began working as a special constable at the force in January 2015 while still at university where she obtained a first-class degree in policing. She was diagnosed with dyslexia while she was at university and received a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in September 2015. 

While at university and working as a special constable, she informed her special constable supervisor that she had recently been diagnosed with ASD and was referred to occupational health (OH) to consider whether any reasonable adjustments should be put in place given the diagnosis of autism. The claimant attended an appointment with the force medical adviser. She took an envelope with information to the OH meeting, which included medical letters, a personal profile of three pages and the letter confirming her ASD.

She told the tribunal that the personal profile held no direct relevance to the workplace and she did not want the force to retain a copy. It was deemed that her diagnosis did “not appear to be having any significant adverse effects on her ability to undertake her usual role”.

Three years later, having successfully worked in her role with no concerns, she applied to become an authorised firearms officer (AFO). She passed all parts of the application process, which included a memory test, observation test and a ‘fire shooting test’. She had also attended and passed a course on using a taser. However a medical assessment state that, whilst there was no specific medical condition that should bar the Police Officer from AFO duties, ”the decision comes down to the risk the organisation is prepared to accept in the knowledge of all facts around her dyslexia and autism conditions.” The medical officer referred to the personal statement which the claimant had completed and submitted as part of her medical review, three years prior. 

Following this, a decision was taken not to allow the claimant to fulfil the course. A grievance proved to be fruitless and the decision stood.  The employment tribunal was damning in its assessment of the situation leading to the claimant’s refusal, confirming that the decision was taken without having met the Police Officer and having relied on a document which was no longer even relevant. It also noted that she had worked successfully for four years as a police constable without any adjustments in place relating to ASD. 

The tribunal found that preventing the claimant to progress to her chosen career specialism was less favourable treatment and is a reminder to employers that a decision regarding an employee should not be made based on assumptions about the potential impact of their disability. In this case it was clear that the claimant had performed her role as a police officer successfully and there was no reason to assume she could not successfully undertake the firearms course.

The case will proceed to a remedy hearing on 18 January 2024.

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