Disability and employment law

What is disability?

Disability is not necessarily as obvious as it may seem to some. The legal definition of disability is contained in the Equality Act 2010 and covers both physical and/or mental disabilities that have substantial and long-term negative effects on person’s abilities to carry out normal everyday duties.

In this context everyday duties involve ‘day to day’ activities such as cooking, shopping, reading or writing. Long term is set at a minimum of 12 months. Therefore, the disability should have lasted or be expected to last a minimum of 12 months. Those who suffered from disability in the past are also protected.

More importantly, the legal definition of disability is not concerned as much with the actual nature of impairment as its ultimate effects. The cause is less relevant if the ultimate impact on person’s ability to freely do normal activities is substantially limited. It is perfectly possible for impairments such as back pains, migraines or dyslexia to fall within the definition of disability if they substantially impact on person’s everyday life.

Rights for disabled people

The Equality Act 2010 provides protection for disabled people against discrimination in:

  • Employment
  • Education
  • Access to services, goods and other facilities (such as clubs or public facilities);

The Act offers the same level of protection and rights to those who are directly associated with a disabled persons. This most commonly includes disabled person’s family or carers.

Disability and Employment Law

The main source of employment law relating to disabled persons’ rights is the Equality Act 2010. The Act requires the employers to treat disabled people in a fair way and make reasonable adjustments to jobs and workplaces where disabled people are involved. There are also some data protection and confidentiality matters that need to be borne in mind by the employers.

Fair Treatment

It is unlawful for employers to discriminate against people with disabilities for a reason related to their disability. This includes the following areas:

  • Recruitment criteria – i.e. special application forms, extra proficiency tests, use of different job offers;
  • Contracts of employment – disabled people should not disadvantage by insertion of special terms of employment;
  • Equal opportunities – disabled persons should enjoy the same career progression opportunities such as promotion, transfer or training;
  • Employment benefits – all benefits that are available to non-disabled staff must be also available to those with impairments this may include things such as access to refreshment facilities or recreational zones;
  • Dismissal and redundancy procedures must be the same for all personnel without any discrimination towards disabled persons.

Reasonable Adjustments

Disability and employment law place a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees and applicants. This can include both changes in working arrangements as well as the workplace itself. The adjustments may include:

  • Allocation of some of your work responsibilities to someone else;
  • Transferring you to another post or another place of work;
  • Making physical modifications to the premises where you work;
  • Providing flexible working hours including time-off for disabled persons who require rehabilitation or treatment;
  • Providing special training if you cannot perform your work duties;
  • Providing any extra special equipment that may be required to enable you to work;
  • Making any work documentation such as manuals easily accessible and readable for disabled;
  • If this is required an interpreter or reader should also be provided.

When making reasonable adjustment it might be worth to consider:

  • How effective the modifications will be (i.e. will it significantly help or just slightly improve working conditions)?
  • Is it practical to be made or will it cause a lot of disruption to others?
  • Is the cost proportional to the benefits that the modification may provide?

Should you need to obtain more information about disability and employment law, a good site for helpful advice is provided by Darlingtons employment law team. You may also refer to the Disability and the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Office for Disability Issues.