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Disability discrimination

Key points

  • The Equality Act 2010 provides disabled people with protection from discrimination in the work place.
  • Employers must make reasonable adjustments to accommodate a worker with a disability.
  • Disabled employees are protected from harassment at work.
  • Employers should have polices in place to prevent discrimination.

It is unlawful to discriminate against workers because of a physical or mental disability or fail to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate a worker with a disability. Under the Equality Act 2010 a person is classified as disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Day-to-day activities include things such as using a telephone, reading a book or using public transport.

There has been publicity around a recent case at the European Court of Justice (FOA v Kommunernes Landsforening) in relation to whether obesity can constitute a disability.

The court ruled that while the condition of obesity would not in itself constitute a disability, where the condition leads to a long-term impairment which could have an effect on their ability to interact with professional life, a person may be protected by disability legislation.

Acas is looking at the impact of this decision and considering its implication for employers and employees.   

The Equality Act 2010 provides disabled people with protection from discrimination in a range of areas, including in employment.

This means that employers:

  • must not directly discriminate against a person because of their actual or perceived disability, or because they associate with a disabled person
  • must not treat a disabled person less favourably for a reason related to his or her impairment, unless that treatment can be justified for example an employer may reject someone who has a severe back problem where the job entails heavy lifting
  • must not have procedures, policy or practices which, although applicable to all workers, disproportionately disadvantage those who share a particular disability, unless these can be justified
  • must make reasonable adjustments in the recruitment and employment of disabled people. This can include, for example, adjustments to recruitment and selection procedures, to terms and conditions of employment, to working arrangements and physical changes to the premises or equipment
  • must not treat an employee unfairly who has made or supported a complaint about discrimination because of disability.

Disabled employees are also protected from harassment. Harassment is unwanted conduct related to disability which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual's dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.

Employers should ensure they have policies in place which are designed to prevent discrimination in:

  • recruitment and selection
  • determining pay
  • training and development
  • selection for promotion
  • discipline and grievances
  • countering bullying and harassment.

If an employee has a disability that is making it difficult to work, employers should consider what reasonable adjustments they can make in the workplace to help or schedule an interview with the employee to discuss what can be done to support them. This could be as simple as supplying an adequate, ergonomic chair or power-assisted piece of equipment. Reasonable adjustments also include re-deployment to a different type of work if necessary.

If an employee feels they been discriminated against, they will be able to bring a claim to an Employment Tribunal. However, it's best to talk to their employer first to try to sort out the matter informally, in order to minimise the negative effects on all parties involved.

Claimants who wish to bring a claim to the tribunal or appeal tribunal will have to pay a fee. An initial fee will be paid to issue a claim and a further fee will be payable if the claim proceeds to hearing. There are two levels of fee which will depend on the type of claim. Further information is available from Ministry of Justice - Employment Tribunal guidance.

Through the Acas Helpline on 0300 123 1100 you can get advice on specific problems, and explore alternatives to an Employment Tribunal claim, such as Mediation or Early Conciliation, where appropriate.

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Acas run practical Training and Business Solutions to equip managers, supervisors and HR professionals with the necessary skills to deal with employment relations issues and to create more productive workplace environments.

Click to view related Acas training and course dates in your area for Equality, diversity and the Equality Act 2010.

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