Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

Disability Discrimination in the Workplace - a Guide for Employers

In the modern workplace, it is now more important than ever to ensure that disability discrimination is properly managed, so that everybody has a fair chance of working in a safe environment that caters to a host of needs. With the Equality Act 2010 in mind, employers must adhere to discrimination laws that protect all workers with a disability against harassment and victimisation at work, as well as any forms of discrimination that manifest as a result of exclusion.

Who is protected by disability discrimination law?

There are a host of people that are covered by discrimination laws outside of employees and workers, including those applying for jobs, contractors and self-employed personnel that have been asked to perform specific roles. Anyone who has a condition or impairment that is considered a disability by law (or is believed to have such a disability), someone directly involved with disabled individuals (like friends or family members), or even those who work with disabled people voluntarily can be subject to discrimination.

Discrimination may include an individual being put at disadvantage or treated less favourably due to a disability, harassment, bullying in direct response to the characteristics of a disability, or victimisation that may come as a result of different treatment if a disability complaint was made (or supported).

Disabilities covered by disability discrimination laws can include mental health issues that have a significant, long-term effect on the individual’s ability to perform traditional work tasks. These can include:

  • Dementia
  • Severe depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Diagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Schizophrenia

These laws may even cover those who have recovered from a disability (for example, somebody relearning how to walk after an injury that saw them wheelchair-bound for a period of time).

Businesses must make reasonable adjustments

All businesses will need to have contingencies in place to support the needs of disabled workers and these are considered to be ‘reasonable adjustments’. As a requirement under equality law, disabled workers should have access to the necessary tools and resources to enable them to perform and maintain the same roles as able-bodied workers. This could include removing physical barriers, adapting work equipment, providing easier access (such as wheelchair ramps), or providing extra support - but these have to fall within rational parameters such as affordability.

There will be times when health and safety laws may restrict inclusivity in the workplace, but if there are reasonable adjustments that can be made to accommodate where possible, businesses can avoid legal ramifications.

With this in mind, there will be instances where businesses can refuse to make reasonable adjustments, but this will only be accepted if adaptations are impractical, if the cost is simply too excessive, or if modifications will create other legal breaches. To ensure compliance, it can be worthwhile to access employment law advisory services.