Even apparently innocuous business models can have an unforeseen discriminatory impact. A medical practice faced just such an allegation due to its belief that only full-time doctors could provide the best possible medical care to patients (Ali v Bedford Hill Family Practice).
The case concerned an employed GP who had to take a lengthy period off work after suffering a heart attack. There was no dispute that he had a qualifying disability within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010. A medical report indicated that he would be able to return to work part time, on a phased basis, but the practice instead dismissed him, with immediate effect, on capacity grounds.
After he launched proceedings, an Employment Tribunal (ET) ruled his dismissal procedurally unfair in that the practice had failed to obtain an updated medical report concerning his fitness to return to the surgery or to discuss with him the possibility of part-time working. His disability discrimination claim was, however, rejected on the basis that, although his dismissal amounted to unfavourable treatment, it represented a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
In upholding the GP’s challenge to the latter ruling, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) found that the ET had failed to consider the possibility of part-time working as an alternative, and less discriminatory, means of achieving the practice’s legitimate aim, namely the provision of the best possible patient care.
Notwithstanding that the practice’s business model favoured full-time working, which it considered to be the best way of fostering continuity of care, it had accepted that the GP returning to the surgery part time was a possibility. The ET had failed to take that relevant factor into account. The case was remitted to the same ET for reconsideration in the light of the EAT’s decision.
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