Disability Discrimination In The Workplace Approximately one in five of the working population in the UK has a disability according to statistics produced by the Department of Work and Pensions. We can therefore assume that one in five of your own workforce will be currently facing disability discrimination… and you may not even realise!
Disability discrimination is something that the government are starting to take more seriously and, in November 2017, produced a paper called
‘Improving Lives, the Future of Work, Health & Disability‘. The paper ‘sets out plans to transform employment prospects for disabled people or those with long term health conditions’. The end goal is to see 4.5 million disabled people in employment by 2027. What can be classed as a disability?
A disability can be defined as a physical or a mental condition which has a substantial and long-term impact on your ability to do normal day to day activities. Physical disabilities may include M.S, a spinal chord injury, HIV or cancer. A mental disability includes any mental health condition that has or is likely to last over 12 months. Some conditions are automatically considered a disability (such as cancer), however others will need careful assessment.
What are my responsibilities as an employer?
In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees because they have a mental or physical disability. In Northern Ireland it is the Disability Discrimination Act that governs this. Additionally, disabilities are also classed as a ‘protected characteristic’.
As an employer, it’s your responsibility to prevent discrimination within your workplace as well as supporting those who may feel discriminated against. You need to encourage an inclusive working environment where your employees are actually at ease when at work.
It is your responsibility to understand any disability your employee may have as well as know how to make any reasonable adjustments to ensure that the employee isn’t at a disadvantage due to their disability.
What are reasonable adjustments and do I have to accommodate them?
Reasonable adjustments remove or minimise disadvantages experienced by disabled people. Disadvantages vary but they can include the employee’s working environment, job role and even your company’s policies and procedures. When looking at introducing reasonable adjustments we recommend that you work with the employee to find a solution. After all, the employee will know their disability better than yourself and will know what will work, won’t work and hasn’t worked in the past.
You need to keep in mind that if
you fail to make any reasonable adjustments, then as an employer, you have actually discriminated against your employee! However, what is classed as reasonable depends on numerous factors including the resources available to your company.
Reasonable adjustments aren’t just applicable to your employees, they are also applicable to potential employees. Is your recruitment process inclusive of disabled applicants? From ensuring your premises is wheelchair friendly and making allowances to gaps in employment to providing an interpreter at the interview, you need to ensure that you do not discriminate during your recruitment process.
Before making any reasonable adjustments we advise that you contact a HR specialist, like ourselves, to ensure that you are complying with your legal responsibilities. You can contact our team on 08450 50 40 60. Is there more than one type of discrimination?
Yes there is! There are actually four different types of discrimination: direct, indirect, harassment and victimisation.
Direct discrimination is the most common and probably the type of discrimination you are aware of. Direct discrimination is a blatant attempt to treat your employee less favourably simply because they have a disability.
Indirect discrimination is a bit more complex. This is where there could be a practice, policy or rule that applies to everyone in the same way but unintentionally presents a disadvantage to disabled employees. However, if there is good reason that your practices, policies and rules are proportionate then this is known as an objective justification and as an employer you will be protected.
Harassment is when an employee is subjected to unwanted, repeated conduct relating to their disability. Harassment is usually negative, distressing, humiliating and offensive.
Victimisation is when an employee is then treated unfairly due to a complaint they have made about disability discrimination.
Additionally, failing to make any reasonable adjustments (as mentioned above) as well as treating someone unfairly due to something that arises from their disability can also be classed as discrimination.
An employee is claiming my company has discriminated against them, what’s next?
If an employee feels that they have been discriminated against then they most probably will take you to an employment tribunal. There are currently no employment tribunal fees for employees, meaning it won’t cost them a penny to take you to court, thus, making it incredibly easy to take you to court!
As HR professionals, we don’t recommend representing yourself at a tribunal. It is most definitely worth employing the services, knowledge and expertise of experienced legal professionals who will be able to gather information, advise and confidently represent you in court. If you’re unsure if you should rely on a company like ourselves for tribunal representation, read our
blogpost here on how Southampton University were recently fined £3.5million for not having adequate tribunal representation!
Think that your HR needs a review to make sure you’re not discriminating against any employees? Why not give our team a call today on
08450 50 40 60 and take advantage of a no obligation, HR consultation. Our experts are happy to discuss whatever issue is currently affecting your business right now for free. Can’t talk? Send us an email or complete the contact form and we’ll be in touch as soon as possible.