When is a disfigurement ‘severe’ under the Equality Act 2010?

Disability-symbols editedDisability discrimination is a serious offence, under the Equality Act 2010 and can lead to an uncapped amount of compensation if proven. The Act covers discrimination based on an individual’s severe disfigurement, but many people are unsure as to what exactly amounts to a severe disfigurement.

A recent case at the Employment Appeal Tribunal (Hutchison 3G UK Ltd v Edwards UKEAT/0467/13/DM) upheld, on appeal, the importance of looking at the impact of a disfigurement on a person’s everyday life when assessing whether or not it is severe. In this case, the claimant, a sufferer of Poland syndrome, worked as a sales associate in a mobile phone shop. His condition left him with two missing ribs and various missing muscles in his chest, making his chest look notably asymmetrical. His employers required him to wear a new type of polo shirt that made this disfigurement visible and the claimant suffered harassment and victimisation as a result. Subsequently, he brought a claim in the employment tribunal for constructive unfair dismissal and disability discrimination.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal held that it was important to look at the extent to which an individual would go to in order to hide their disfigurement. However, courts should not have to examine the claimant themselves nor look at photographic evidence to establish this. The burden of proof lies on the claimant to prove that the disfigurement substantially impacts their ability to carry out their day to day activities and that they noticeably attempt to hide their disfigurement or avoid certain places or people as a result.

It is important to note, however, that the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 do not encompass piercings or tattoos in the definition of ‘disfigurement’.

 

Amarjit Atwal, Paralegal