Disability discrimination at work

How employers should handle a disability discrimination complaint

As an employer, you should:

  • take any complaint of disability discrimination very seriously
  • think very carefully about the way you handle a complaint, to make sure you do it fairly and sensitively and follow the right procedures

If you do not, the problem might be raised as a formal complaint later, or lead to an employment tribunal claim if it's not resolved.

Taking it seriously can:

  • show you are working to make the workplace fair
  • give staff confidence to raise an issue
  • help stop and prevent unacceptable behaviour
  • reduce the likelihood of legal action

Keep an open mind

When you're dealing with a disability discrimination complaint, it's important to understand that:

  • something that seems like nothing to you, or only a small thing, can feel very different to the person experiencing it
  • it may be very hard for the person to talk about what's happened
  • they may be worried about who to trust, whether their complaint will be ignored or if they'll be seen as a troublemaker
  • people can be affected by disability discrimination in different ways

It's important that you:

  • listen to what the person says
  • leave any personal feelings you have to one side
  • look at how it's made them feel or how it's affected them
  • do not make any assumptions
  • consider the person's specific circumstances
  • look into the complaint thoroughly and fairly

How to approach a disability discrimination complaint

As an employer or manager, you should take any complaint of discrimination very seriously, and look into it as soon as possible. You must follow a full and fair procedure.

It's important to understand the different types of disability discrimination so you know what your responsibilities are under discrimination law (Equality Act 2010).

A complaint or concern might come from:

  • an employee or worker about something they've experienced
  • an employee or worker who's witnessed unacceptable behaviour or treatment
  • a trade union or employee representative on behalf of an employee or worker

You should look into the complaint in a way that’s fair and sensitive to:

  • the person who made the complaint
  • anyone who witnessed it
  • anyone accused of discrimination or harassment

You should keep the complaint as confidential as possible. People should only have appropriate information on a strictly need-to-know basis.

Find out the steps you should take to handle a discrimination or harassment complaint at work.

If the complaint has been made a long time after the incident took place, you should still take it seriously.

If it's a disability hate crime

Harassment at work can sometimes be a crime. For example if someone is the victim of:

  • physical or verbal abuse
  • threats of physical violence
  • online abuse
  • damage to their property

Any criminal offence can be a disability hate crime if the person is targeted because they're disabled. Someone can also be the victim of a disability hate crime if someone thinks they're disabled, or they have a connection with disability or someone who's disabled.

Find out how employers should deal with harassment that could be a crime

Supporting staff who've been affected

Disability discrimination can be very distressing and in some cases have a severe impact on someone's mental health and wellbeing.

You should make sure that:

  • reporting disability discrimination is as easy as possible
  • anyone who's experienced or witnessed it feels safe and protected
  • anyone accused of discriminating against someone is treated in an impartial and fair way, including after any appropriate procedures
  • you're aware of the impact this has had on people involved and offer ongoing support to help improve working relationships
  • you talk to anyone affected privately and allow plenty of time
  • you're aware of any specific support someone might need throughout the process, for example reasonable adjustments
  • you offer mental health support to staff, for example through an employee assistance programme (EAP) or trained mental health first aiders
  • the person investigating the complaint is impartial and trained for the role

Help and support for employers

For more advice about your options, you can

Acas support for employers and managers includes:

Find out more about supporting disabled people at work

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