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No. 123 – Is missing out on a job because of a heart condition discrimination?

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6 September 2023

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week: a heart condition causing problems, part-time problems and a delicate balance of rights.

My partner works in the transport and logistics industry driving forklifts and delivery vehicles. He disclosed on a job application that he has a long-standing heart condition. Aside from some fatigue, the condition doesn’t affect his ability to work. In the interview, the recruiter told my partner he’d be reluctant to put him forward due to his condition. Is this even legal?

Employers have legal obligations not to unlawfully discriminate against a person based on a disability (physical or mental). But this obligation has to be balanced against the other legal obligation of providing a safe working environment.

The situation your husband has experienced is a tricky one, so I got in touch with HR expert Sarah Queenan, founder and managing director of Humanify HR. She tells me that if someone has a physical disability, like a heart condition, employers need to consider the inherent requirements of the role and whether, in this case, your husband can effectively carry out essential or fundamental duties. It sounds like the company has a reasonable concern your husband’s health issues may impact his ability to safely carry out the role.

Your husband might be best to obtain a letter or medical certificate from his doctor confirming his health issues will not have any impact on his ability to work, should this come up again.

I came back from maternity leave to work part-time. I work in the office on Wednesdays, then work another two days at home. I have a long commute, so my husband re-arranged his work schedule around my Wednesday office days. My manager constantly schedules meetings on Tuesdays at short notice, and asks me to switch my day in the office as a “one off”. I’ve told her multiple times that I’m unable to do this and feel I’m being left out of important decisions. Is it just me or is my manager being unreasonable?

It sounds like you did everything you could to manage your return to work and, as any parent with young children knows, schedules are not something to be trifled with unless in exceptional circumstances. It sounds like your boss has no appreciation of the pressure these requests have on you and your family. I don’t think you’re being unreasonable to ask for some level of certainty regarding the schedule you’ve agreed on or, at least, plenty of notice on the rare occasion a change needs to happen.

If you work with others who are experiencing the same challenges, I would go with them – or on your own – to your manager. Let them know that these issues are causing you to question whether you can continue working with them. I would explain you want to find a way through this, but changing your arrangements is making work increasingly difficult.

I manage a small team of consultants and a client recently briefed us on a project to reflect their support for the LGBTQI+ community. Our most talented consultant has come to me and said they do not wish to work on this project due to their religious beliefs. To lose this consultant’s input will have a negative effect on workloads. What should I do?

This is an incredibly tricky issue requiring you to balance competing rights: the right for your employee to hold genuine religious beliefs and the right for your client to embrace inclusivity. Ideally, you will navigate this to allow for both rights to be maintained. Can you move clients around – just for this piece of work – so your consultant can work on other projects? If not, I think you will need to ask them what plan they can suggest ensuring client needs are met while also feeling comfortable their religious beliefs are not infringed.

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