Disabled workers enjoy the same anti-discrimination protection as other workers, but they have additional rights under the Equality Act 2010 (EA).
All aspects of employment are covered by the EA including:
The definition of a disability is a legal and not a medical definition. This means that sometimes a medical condition may be regarded as a disability by a doctor, but will not be a disability for the purposes of disability discrimination.
A person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. A disabled person means a person who has a disability.
Before deciding whether there is discrimination on the grounds of a disability, an Employment Tribunal will have to decide whether a person is disabled and will look at four conditions:
1.) The impairment: is there a physical or mental impairment? Examples of physical impairment include multiple sclerosis, cancer, blindness and arthritis. Examples of mental impairment include depression, dementia and autism. An impairment, which may result in a worker being protected under the EA, can result from the cause or effect of another illness. It also may result from conditions which cannot be described as an illness, such as disfigurement or genetic deformity.
Some physical conditions can result from an underlying mental condition, or can cause a mental condition, such as depression.
If your employee has an addiction to alcohol, nicotine or any other substance they will not be regarded as having a disability for the purposes of the EA.
2.) The adverse effect: the tribunal must ascertain whether the impairment identified at stage 1 adversely affects one's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. These include, for example, using a telephone, reading or using public transport, mobility, ability to lift, carry or otherwise move everyday objects, speech, hearing or eyesight.
However, note that:
3.) Whether the adverse effect is substantial - The condition is more than minor or trivial. A number of factors are taken into account including the time it takes to carry out an activity and the way in which an activity is carried out.
4.) Whether it is a long-term impairment: the impairment must have a long term effect as of the date of any alleged act of discrimination. 'Long term' includes impairments that:
Where measures are taken to treat or correct an impairment that would be likely to have a substantial adverse effect on the ability of a person to carry out normal day-to-day activities, that impairment is still treated as amounting to a disability. For example epilepsy, which although controlled by medication, may still amount to a disability.
Note that anyone diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, cancer or multiple sclerosis will be considered a disabled person. They do not need to exhibit symptoms to qualify for this status.
This is where a worker is treated less favourably because of their disability when compared with another worker who is not disabled but has the same (or at least not materially different) abilities as the disabled worker.
For example, a job advert might state that disabled applicants will not be considered. This might give a disabled applicant, who is otherwise qualified and able to do the job, a claim for direct disability discrimination.
Direct discrimination also extends to protecting a worker if you treat them less favourably based on:
You could be liable for direct discrimination even if you did not intend to discriminate against your employee.
This will occur where you apply a formal or informal provision, criteria or practice equally to all workers in the workplace that puts workers with a disability at a particular disadvantage when compared with other workers, and a worker within that disadvantaged group actually suffers this particular disadvantage.
It does not matter whether or not this has been done intentionally.
You can defend against indirect discrimination claims by justifying the use of the unlawful practice, provisions or criteria, if you can show that its application is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
This protects workers from being treated unfavourably due to something arising as a consequence of their disability when compared with another worker who does not have the disability. The reason does not have to be the disability itself and can include something related to it, such as an aid or device (e.g. the use of a wheelchair) or the amount of sick leave taken in a year.
This means comparing the treatment of a disabled worker with how a person without the disability would be treated. For example, a disabled worker who is dismissed because he is regularly absent from work due to illness would be compared to a non-disabled worker who was not absent from work. He will be able to claim discrimination arising from a disability because he is being discriminated against for a reason (his absence from work) which relates to his disability.
This type of discrimination is unlawful where you either know or could reasonably be expected to know, that a worker has a disability.
You can defend claims by justifying your actions, if you can show that the discriminatory act was a proportionate means to achieve a legitimate aim.
For example, you may be able to justify removing a diabetic worker from driving duties for the material and substantial reason that he would pose a risk to himself and other road users.
Under the EA, you have a duty to make 'reasonable adjustments' to ensure that workplace provisions, criteria, practices or any physical features of the workplace do not put a worker at a substantial disadvantage compared to non-disabled workers.
Examples of the sort of adjustments you should consider, in consultation with your employee, include:
Your duty to make reasonable adjustments will only arise if you know or could reasonably be expected to know that a person (including a job applicant) is disabled and that they are suffering or are likely to suffer a substantial disadvantage because of a workplace provision, criteria or practice or any physical features of the workplace.
Your duty is to take such steps as are reasonable in all the circumstances. Therefore, you should take into account whether the required adjustments are possible, the financial implications and whether there is financial or other assistance available to you in order to take such steps (such as the Access to Work programme run by Jobcentre Plus. Through this programme, employers can get advice on appropriate adjustments and possibly some financial help towards the cost of the adjustments).
Harassment is unwanted conduct towards a worker by an employer or another worker, because of that worker's actual or perceived disability, or association with someone with a disability. This applies to any conduct that violates a worker's dignity, or creates an intimidating, hostile, humiliating, degrading or offensive environment, even if it was not intended as such.
If it is reasonable that the unwanted conduct has had an intimidating or humiliating effect on the worker, then you may have a harassment claim made against you (even where the harassment was unintentional). A worker will not be protected if they are over sensitive and unreasonably take offence to an innocent comment.
Workers who are not the subject of the unwanted conduct will also be able to make harassment claims for behaviour that they find offensive, even if they do not have a protected characteristic.
Employers are liable for any acts of harassment undertaken by their employees in the course of their employment – whether they knew about it or not – if they fail to take reasonable steps to prevent it. 'In the course of employment' means 'done whilst at work' or 'done while 'in a workplace-related environment'. Employers can't defend a claim of harassment by showing that they did not authorise it or on the grounds that the actions were reasonable or warranted.
You can, however, escape liability for harassment if you took reasonably practicable steps to prevent it.
Victimisation happens when a worker is being treated less favourably because:
If you reasonably think that a group of your workers who share a protected characteristic (race, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital or civil partnership status, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, disability or religion or belief)...
...then you can take any proportionate action that enables or encourages the group of workers to overcome or minimise their disadvantage; meets their needs; or enables or encourages them to participate in the activity.
You are allowed to provide special training to members of the group. You can also encourage members of the group to apply to do particular work or fill posts (for example, by saying that applications from them will be particularly welcome).
This does not mean that you can discriminate in favour of the members of the group when it comes to choosing people to do the work or fill the posts, unless you meet the circumstances described below under 'Positive action in recruitment and for promotions', as that could be unlawful discrimination.
Positive action is not the same as 'positive discrimination', which is where members of a particular group who have a protected characteristic are treated more favourably regardless of their circumstances.
The Equality Act 2010 makes it lawful for employers to take positive action when recruiting and making internal promotions in order to overcome a disadvantage connected with a protected characteristic or where the inclusion of people with the protected characteristic in a particular activity is disproportionately low. You will be able to take positive action where all of the following apply:
The Act does not require employers to take positive action and it is therefore voluntary.
Further guidance on positive action can be obtained from the.
Positive discrimination is unlawful except if used when recruiting or promoting individuals in the limited circumstances described above.
If you dismiss an employee, or if an employee resigns because they claim that they have been discriminated against by you, then they may make a complaint of unfair dismissal to an Employment Tribunal. In addition, they may also claim for damages on the grounds of discrimination which they will be able to do regardless of their length of service.
The Employment Tribunal has exclusive jurisdiction to consider claims of disability discrimination. A complaint must be presented within three months from the date of the act complained of, unless the tribunal considers that it is fair and reasonable in the circumstances to hear the claim outside that period.
While there is a limit on the amount of compensation a tribunal can award for unfair dismissal, there is no limit in cases of unlawful discrimination.
For more detailed information, please look at the official Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service.
Thehave a number of employer guides regarding your obligations under the Equality Act 2010.