Disability discrimination at work

Steps for employers to prevent disability discrimination

All employers should take steps to try to make sure disability discrimination does not happen at work.

You should aim for a culture of zero tolerance of disability discrimination. To try to achieve this, you should:

  • remove or reduce risks of disability discrimination
  • offer support to anyone who's affected by it
  • make it clear to everyone who works for you, or uses your services, that disability discrimination is against the law (Equality Act 2010) and you will not tolerate it
  • train your staff on recognising disability discrimination and encourage them to report it
  • make sure all your policies are consistent in having zero tolerance of disability discrimination
  • recognise the benefits of an inclusive and diverse workforce that does not exclude disabled people

If you are a small business or organisation and feel you do not have enough resources to do all these things, you should still do as much as you can. You can introduce many of these things at little or no cost.

Employ and support disabled people

Disability discrimination can be less likely to happen when you have a diverse range of staff.

If you employ and support disabled people, you can:

  • draw from the widest possible pool of talent for jobs at all levels
  • have a workforce that better reflects your customers and the wider community
  • recruit and retain staff who often have more resilience and problem-solving skills through developing ways of living with a disability
  • bring new skills to the organisation
  • improve staff morale by treating everyone fairly
  • show customers, clients and other organisations your commitment to equality

Encourage inclusive behaviour

There are many ways you can encourage inclusive behaviour around disability. For example, you could:

  • take 'positive action' to make the workplace fairer if disabled people are disadvantaged or under-represented in your organisation
  • provide ways for staff to share their experiences of living with a disability, if they're comfortable doing so
  • encourage senior staff and managers to be role models, including sharing their own experiences of disability where appropriate
  • make the workplace more accessible – this includes anywhere staff are working, including working from home
  • give information to staff, job applicants and customers in formats they can access and language that's easy to understand

Find out more about improving equality, diversity and inclusion at work

Talk about language and disability

It's important to talk with your staff about appropriate language to use when discussing disability. This includes when you’re speaking directly with someone who's disabled and in wider communications at work.

You should make it clear that ableist language is not acceptable. This means language that's inappropriate, offensive or negative towards disabled people, including things some might consider as 'banter' or jokes.

You should also be sensitive in the terms you use around disability. Do not use words that are offensive or negative, for example handicapped, crippled or wheelchair-bound.

Other terms can depend on people's preferences and experiences. For example, individual people might prefer to say either:

  • "I'm disabled"
  • "I have a disability"
  • "I have a health condition or impairment"

Talk with your staff about how they feel about these terms and others. Language and preferences can also change over time.

For more advice, see inclusive language guidance on GOV.UK.

Put policies and procedures in place

You must follow a full and fair procedure for handling discrimination complaints, in line with the Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures.

You may want to develop specific policies for your organisation, for example:

  • a bullying, discrimination and harassment policy – including how you will handle complaints
  • an equality, diversity and inclusion policy

If you create a specific equality, diversity and inclusion policy

If you decide to create a specific equality, diversity and inclusion policy, you should do this in consultation with either:

  • trade unions
  • other employee representatives, where there's no trade union

The following are examples of what you should consider including:

  • talking about disability at work – including language and terminology
  • supporting and listening to disabled staff – this could include setting up a formal group like a disability network
  • supporting allies – people who are not disabled but who want to help make sure their workplace is inclusive
  • steps you will take to avoid stereotyping people who have a disability
  • addressing issues relating to coronavirus (COVID-19) and the disproportionate effect on some groups

Find out more about creating an equality, diversity and inclusion policy

Make sure other policies are in line

It's important that all your policies match up. You should check all relevant policies to make sure they do not discriminate against anyone because of disability, including:

  • absence
  • data protection (following UK GDPR)
  • dress code
  • flexible working
  • recruitment
  • social media
  • training and development
  • working hours

For example:

  • your recruitment policy should cover making reasonable adjustments for job applicants who need them
  • your absence policy should take into account staff who need time off for medical appointments
  • your social media policy should make it clear there is zero tolerance of disability discrimination, including on personal devices

Train staff

This includes:

  • training everyone who works for you on recognising and understanding disability discrimination
  • training managers and others to know how to deal with disability discrimination complaints
  • training appropriate staff as mental health first aiders
  • providing regular equality and diversity training for all staff

Acas training for employers and managers includes:

It's important to understand that training on its own is not likely to get rid of unconscious bias or discrimination. Training needs to be part of a wider plan.

Consider mentoring

You may want to consider a mentoring scheme. For example:

  • a scheme to support disabled staff to progress in their career
  • a 'reverse mentoring scheme' where disabled staff or those with long-term health conditions share their experiences and ideas with senior staff

If you use mentoring schemes to take 'positive action', for example to support people to progress in their career, you must be able to prove that this action is needed to help a disadvantaged or under-represented group.

Create ways for staff to be heard

This can include:

  • setting up a formal group for disabled people and their allies to share experiences, raise concerns and support each other – for example a disability network
  • appointing disability champions

Make sure you support any groups or roles once they're set up. This includes:

  • giving people the time to be involved
  • actively listening to concerns raised
  • taking steps to resolve issues – this could include things like making changes so your workplace is accessible or making reasonable adjustments

Evaluate and measure change

You should regularly check if policies and procedures for preventing disability discrimination and handling complaints are working or if they need to change. 

It's also important to regularly evaluate other steps you've taken. How you do this will depend on what you've done and any particular issues you were trying to address.

For example, you could:

  • check the diversity of your staff 
  • do anonymous staff surveys
  • see if you have a disproportionate staff turnover for staff who are disabled
  • do an analysis of roles and pay grades to see if disabled staff are represented and paid fairly
  • consult with your trade union, if there is one

Acas support for employers

If you need help to deal with any challenges in your organisation, you can:

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