Supporting disabled people at work

How an employer should support disabled people

Employers must do all they reasonably can to support disabled employees, workers and job applicants and protect them from disability discrimination, including harassment and victimisation.

It's important to understand that:

  • some disabilities are not obvious to others – often called non-visible, invisible or hidden disabilities
  • everyone is different – even people with the same disability may be affected in very different ways
  • not everyone who's considered by law as having a disability will consider themselves to be disabled

Areas of work to consider

Employers must support disabled people in all areas of work, including:

  • accessibility of the workplace or the tools and systems people need to use
  • ways of working, for example flexible working or hybrid working
  • recruitment
  • redundancy and dismissals
  • sickness and absence
  • terms and conditions of employment, including pay and promotion
  • training
  • working hours or rest breaks
  • work-related events – for example away days, conferences or team social events

What the law says

The law (Equality Act 2010) sets out when someone is considered to have a disability. At work, the law protects:

  • employees and workers
  • contractors and self-employed people hired to personally do the work
  • job applicants

By law, employers must:

  • make 'reasonable adjustments' when they know, or could reasonably be expected to know, someone is disabled
  • do all they reasonably can to support disabled staff and job applicants and protect them from discrimination
  • take steps to prevent disability discrimination – this includes recognising the benefits of having an inclusive and diverse workforce that does not exclude disabled people

It's also the employer's responsibility to make sure other people do what's needed for a reasonable adjustment to work well. For example, if someone needs information presented in a certain format, the employer must make sure other people do that.

An employer could be liable under the law if they do not do these things. For example, an employee or job applicant could make a disability discrimination claim to an employment tribunal.

Find out more about disability discrimination

Making reasonable adjustments

Reasonable adjustments are changes an employer makes to remove or reduce a disadvantage related to someone's disability.

By law, an employer must make reasonable adjustments when:

  • they know, or could reasonably be expected to know, an employee or job applicant is disabled
  • a disabled employee or job applicant asks for adjustments
  • a disabled employee is having difficulty with any part of their job
  • an employee's absence record, sickness record or delay in returning to work is because of, or linked to, their disability

If an employer does not do this, it could be a type of disability discrimination called 'failure to make reasonable adjustments'.

Some disabled people might not need or want adjustments, although this might change over time. To make sure the most appropriate adjustments are in place, they should talk with their manager regularly, for example every 6 months or if something changes.

Employees can use a 'reasonable adjustments passport' to keep a record.

Find out more about reasonable adjustments

Supporting people with a mental health condition

Some people with mental health conditions will be considered as having a disability by law.

It may not always be obvious that someone has a mental health condition unless they tell their employer. But in some circumstances an employer might reasonably be expected to know.

For example, Kiran's employer knows Kiran is sleeping badly, not eating and showing no interest in work they used to enjoy. It's gone on for over a year including several self-certified absences. It does not occur to the employer that Kiran might be experiencing poor mental health.

Kiran is diagnosed with clinical depression. It's considered a disability because it's having a substantial and long-term adverse effect on Kiran's ability to carry out day-to-day activities. It may have been reasonable for the employer to know this because of the change in Kiran's behaviour and the time off work.

Find out more about supporting mental health at work

Making decisions during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

Disabled people and many people with health conditions have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some disabled people will be at high risk from COVID-19.

Employees and workers have the same rights as usual to be supported and not discriminated against. By law, employers must consider this when they make decisions, for example around workplace safety or ways of working.

Employers should not assume what someone wants or needs.

For example, Sam agreed with their employer that they can work from home permanently as a reasonable adjustment. Working from home during the pandemic made it easier for them to manage their condition.

The employer knows Kai has a similar disability and assumes they want the same change. The employer thinks they're being helpful by telling Kai they're now a permanent homeworker. But Kai's symptoms are different and they do not need or want this adjustment. This could be disability discrimination.

Read our COVID-19 advice for employers and employees

Making the workplace accessible

Employers should make sure their workplace, and the way they work, is accessible to as many people as possible. This is on top of the legal requirement to make reasonable adjustments for disabled staff and job applicants.

Find out more about accessibility at work

More support

Employers can join the government's Disability Confident scheme to help them recruit, retain and develop disabled people.

Employees and workers, job applicants and employers can find more support for managing disability at work.

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