Disability and discrimination in the workplace
The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from disability-related discrimination, harassment and victimisation. The Equality Act also protects an employee from ‘discrimination arising from disability’ – this is where they are treated unfavourably, not because of the disability itself, but because of something linked with their disability.
How can disability discrimination happen?
There are four main types of discrimination within the protected characteristic of Disability under the Equality Act 2010:
Direct discrimination is when someone is treated less favourably than others. It can be because of:
- their disability – this is ordinary direct discrimination
- the disability of someone they are associated with (friend, family, colleague). This is direct discrimination by association
- how they are perceived – that they are believed to have a disability. This is direct discrimination by perception, whether or not the perception is true.
Indirect discrimination occurs where an employer applies conditions or practice to all employees, but it puts people with a disability at a particular disadvantage compared to people who do not have a disability.
Harassment is an ‘unwanted conduct’. It must have the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual. It can be verbal, written or physical.
Victimisation is when an employee suffers a ‘detriment’ – something that causes damage, harm, or loss – because of:
- making an allegation of discrimination
- supporting a complaint of discrimination
- giving evidence relating to a complaint about discrimination
- raising a grievance concerning equality or discrimination.
An employee is protected under the Equality Act if they make, or support, an allegation of victimisation as long as it is in good faith – even if the information or evidence they give proves to be inaccurate.
Good Practice to Avoid Discrimination
Adjustments you can make to support a disabled person in the workplace
- Allocate some duties to another staff member, if the person is unable to meet the targets or cope with the workload because of their disability
- Transfer the person to another job, if they become unable to do their current job because of their disability
- Allow the person to take extra breaks during the day
Allow the person to take time off work or disability leave if they need treatment or rehabilitation training
Don’t treat sick leave caused by a disability as routine sick leave:
- Allow the person to work flexibly – for example, work part time
- Allow the person to have a phased return to work
- Allow the person to return to an alternative job or adjust duties and responsibilities
Make sure disabled parking spaces are available near the office
- Allow the person to bring a friend to a disciplinary meeting if they suffer from anxiety or have a learning disability
- Hold the meeting in a neutral place if this reduces the person’s anxiety.
Ignore periods of disability-related absences when applying redundancy selection criteria
- Allow extra time to complete an assessment
- Ignore any absences in the person’s last job which are disability-related
- Ensure the recruitment processes are accessible for everyone – applications, tests, interviews etc.