For the vast majority of football fans, the name Jean-Marc Bosman is very familiar. I doubt
though, that many police officers and staff know who Terri Brookes is. However in the
same way that Bosman changed football transfers forever, Brookes’ judicial challenge of
Government recruitment processes and the landmark Employment Tribunal judgement in her favour may have an important effect on the way police officers are recruited and
Her case is one of the first times a claim for indirect disability discrimination has succeeded
at Employment Tribunal level.
Terri Brookes has autism, and was required to take a multiple choice situation judgement
test as part of the first stage of her application to the Government Legal Service (GLS).
Many of us who have been through promotion or joined the police recently will be familiar
with this style of testing, as it serves a purpose and the multiple-choice format makes the
assessment process more efficient. However she asked to be allowed to submit short
written answers to the questions, as the black and white nature of the multiple-choice test
placed her at a disadvantage. This was refused, and she failed.
Crucially in this case however, she had asked for the adjustment prior to sitting the test, and then at the Tribunal raised the issue of multiple choice tests in her exams at University,
during which she had been allowed to prepare written answers instead. By doing so, she
was able to provide evidence to prove that the adjustment she was requesting was
reasonable in the circumstances. The Employment Tribunal agreed with her.
So what does this mean for those of us within the police family who are on the autism
spectrum and want to apply for promotion or another role? Well clearly, as we all know,
there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to reasonable adjustments and what may work for one person may not work for another. For example in my particular case I’ve sat various
psychometric tests over the last few years and have always done very well at them. I’d
probably argue that my autistic brain helps me do well.
What this decision shows is the dangers of rigid thinking when considering how to best test
for key competencies, and the need to demonstrate a willingness to find solutions when it comes to reasonable adjustments. It also shows that those of us who need some form of
adjustment need to know what we require to level the playing field, and possibly to be able
to provide evidence as to why.
But what it also shows is the absolute necessity to ensure promotion practices are not likely
to put a particular group at a disadvantage. Considering a disabled/neurodiverse candidate,
many are at the mercy of preconceptions about their condition and their perceived ability to
do the job. And while this decision is a step in the right direction, there aren’t many
alternatives out there that also eradicate some of the other biases that can affect who gets
promoted and who doesn’t. Policing has come a long way in this regard, but still has a long
way to go.
Whichever way you look at it, many police forces in the UK will now be required to think far more flexibly about reasonable adjustments and how to implement them, or face having to explain to an Employment Tribunal why they haven’t.
NPAA Communicatons Officer
Police Sergeant, Avon & Somerset Constabulary