Tribunal rules that colour blindness is not a ‘disability’

News Article

An Employment Tribunal has ruled that an employee’s inability to differentiate colours was not sufficient to be considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010.

In a recent hearing, the Tribunal was asked to consider the case of Bessell v Chief Constable of Dorset Police. Mr Bessell, who has red-green colour blindness as well as difficulties differentiating pink and grey, had attempted to bring a disability discrimination case against his employer.

In support of his claim, Mr Bessell provided a number of examples to explain how his colour blindness caused him difficulties in his daily life but also how he sought to overcome his impairment with coping strategies.

The Tribunal heard how he had difficulty identifying the brown and green balls in snooker unless they were on their spots but, once in play, he could generally follow the game by listening to the commentary. He explained how he was unable to tell if fish or chicken had either gone off or was cooked properly by colour alone but had learnt to overcome this by using his sense of smell and other visual signs.

In a work situation, Mr Bessell had sought to claim that he struggled with forms and maps.

However, the Tribunal found that although some of the forms he used had grey and pink sections which caused some initial difficulty, by his own admission, once he had completed it once or twice, he knew where the information was to be put and could ask a colleague to check if he was unsure.

The colours used on subway maps where of no assistance to him but he could use destinations and other information about the lines.

The Tribunal therefore ruled that there was no reason to believe that Mr Bessell would take appreciably longer to get the hang of forms or maps than most people and therefore ruled that he had not been unfairly discriminated against.

The Tribunal decided that direct discrimination had not occurred, having concluded that Mr Bessell’s colour blindness did not lead to a “substantial and long term adverse effect on [his] ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”.

Mr Bessell had additionally sought to claim for indirect discrimination and a failure by his employers to make reasonable adjustments but both allegations were subsequently withdrawn.

Lara Murray, an Associate and employment law expert, said: “On this occasion the Tribunal found in favour of the employer, having decided that discrimination had not occurred but notwithstanding this, it is worth remembering that employers have a duty to ensure that ‘reasonable adjustments’ are made to enable workers to overcome any physical difficulties they may have, in order to carry out daily work tasks.”

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