Can It Be Discriminatory to Make Disabled Job Hunters Apply Online?

An increasing number of employers require job applicants to fill out online forms and to submit their CVs and covering letters digitally. They should, however, take careful note of a case concerning a dyspraxia sufferer who categorised such an approach as an example of disability discrimination (Mallon v Aecom Ltd).

Due to his condition, the man said he was unable to engage with online forms, passwords and drop-down menus. When he sought a position with an engineering company, he said that he was given no option but to apply online. He complained to an Employment Tribunal (ET) that the company's alleged refusal to allow him to make his application orally amounted to a failure to make reasonable adjustments to cater for his disability.

The company asserted, amongst other things, that he was not required to complete the online form personally and that someone else could do it on his behalf. Other help had been offered and his demand that he be permitted to make his application orally was said to be unreasonable. Following a preliminary hearing, the ET struck out his claim on the basis that it stood no reasonable prospect of success.

Upholding his challenge to that outcome, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) noted that great care should be taken before assuming that an employer or prospective employer is not reasonably required to make an adjustment simply because it can be made by someone else.

Friends or family may be prepared to help a disabled person, but they should not be expected to step in and make a reasonable adjustment, thus saving an employer the trouble of doing so. The fact that the man could ask others to assist him in filling out the form did not necessarily mean that he had suffered no serious disadvantage as a result of the company's alleged policy.

Noting the numerous arguments put forward by the company in its defence, the EAT acknowledged that the man faced formidable obstacles in proving his case. It could not, however, be said that his claim was unarguable or that it had no reasonable prospect of success. His claim was reinstated and the matter was sent back to a differently constituted ET for reconsideration.