Police Officer Rejected as Firearms Officer Due to Autism
A recent decision by the Employment Tribunal has received media attention when Miss Crawford, a police officer, was subject to direct and indirect discrimination after she was rejected from an initial firearms course, due to her dyslexia and autism diagnosis. This has highlighted the importance of employers needing to determine the correct information to consider, when making decisions on workplace applications.
Miss Crawford joined the force as a volunteer police officer in January 2015, after gaining a first-class degree in policing. Soon after commencement of her employment, she informed her supervisor, that she had recently been diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). At the time, this was a non-disclosable condition, however, it was found that Miss Crawford was an honest person and she felt it was the right thing to do. It is at this point that she was referred to Occupational Health where her medical documentation was evaluated. This included a personal profile created prior to her diagnosis and introduction to the force. It was confirmed that this personal profile did not include any work-related information and therefore it was agreed that it would not be retained. Furthermore, the report concluded that her condition did ‘not appear to be having any significant adverse effects on her ability to undertake her usual role’. No suggestions of reasonable adjustments in relation to her autism were made. Subsequently, Miss Crawford became a full-time police officer. She coped successfully in that role.
Three years later, Miss Crawford completed an application to be an authorised firearms officer (AFO). There are detailed standards applicable to the training of officers to become an AFO. Miss Crawford successfully passed all three parts of the process. She had also attended and passed a course training her in the use of a taser. Later she obtained feedback such as ‘I was very impressed. It was textbook and she handled it brilliantly”. It was on the next part of the process that her application was paused for screening by Occupational Health. It was found that ‘she had no medical condition that should bar her from AFO duties’, however, it was for the organisation to evaluate any risk. A request was made for further information to be obtained which included supervisor interviews. Three members of the team, who were found to be extremely experienced in this area of work, all recommended that Miss Crawford should progress to the next stage.
On 1 September 2022, Mr Webster, Deputy Chief Constable made the decision not to permit her on the course. This decision was later found to be less favourable treatment by the Tribunal. The Tribunal heard that he did not have a copy of her application to become an AFO before he made his decision. Miss Crawford’s response and grievance was rejected, and she was told that there was ‘no power’ to reconsider a decision made by the Deputy Chief Constable. It was found that Mr Webster had been provided with all the necessary documentation to make a balanced and informed judgment yet relied on the personal profile that had been deemed irrelevant. He also claimed that he did not know Miss Crawford was disabled, despite proof being presented to the contrary. It was also discovered that Inspectors had declined to put Miss Crawford forward for other roles as she was waiting for a place on this particular course.
No issue was found with Miss Crawford’s forms or Police Standards arena or confidential screening, the Tribunal heard that the only thing that flagged her to Mr Webster was her diagnosis in connection with the personal profile that should not have been retained.
On consideration of the evidence, the Tribunal upheld Miss Crawford’s claims for direct and indirect discrimination. There was found to be no non-discriminatory explanation for the rejection of her application.
The Tribunal considered that a hypothetical comparator, without the diagnosis of the disability, would not have been refused access to the course. It was found that Mr Webster was not acting fairly and having regard to her strengths and genuinely looking for a way to balance the risks. The Tribunal found that the course would have enabled the force to assess her suitability in a careful and detailed way.
It was satisfied that allowing Miss Crawford to attend the course with greater supervision and as a way of carrying out a functional assessment would be a reasonable step to avoid the disadvantage; being the rejection of her application to become an AFO.
The Tribunal has set a clear message in relation to what could be relevant considerations prior to rejecting an employee’s application to progress their career.
This case serves as a powerful reminder to all employers on the risks associated with not considering the very particular circumstances of a matter. Additionally, the need for support and reasonable adjustments to aid career progression for disabled employees instead of taking an action at face value.
How we can help
With so many factors to consider, understanding how to respond appropriately in matters of potential disability discrimination and how to carry out further investigation properly and support employees appropriately, could avoid a lengthy and costly Employment Tribunal process.
For further information, or to discuss the issues raised within this case, please contact us to speak to a member of our Employment Team.
This reflects the law and market position at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought in relation to a specific matter.
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