Disability at work – Dealing With Disability Discrimination

dealing with discrimination arising from disability

It has been an exciting and successful summer of sport with all athletes from both the Olympics and Paralympics bringing home a record number of Gold medals for Great Britain. The Olympics and Paralympics always seem to spark recurring topics for debate covering an array of topics. In particular the posters displayed this year at the Paralympics with “Dis” blanked out and “ability” left on show set off a number of debates about how disabled people are treated in our society. Dealing with discrimination arising from disability in the workplace can be difficult but it is something managers have to be equipt to primarily prevent.

Discrimination against disabled people can often be most prevalent in work environments. According to UNISON (The Public Service Union) people with disabilities make up 20% of the workforce and around 10 million people in Britain have a disability or long-term health condition. It is therefore the responsibility of employers to prevent disability discrimination from arising within their business and dealing with discrimination arising from disability.

The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from discrimination on the grounds of disability. The Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees because of a mental or physical disability. It also covers additional areas such as creating a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments, which is a simple step that can prevent dealing with discrimination arising from disability from ever happening which in turn will lower the risk of any potential tribunal claims regarding disability discrimination.

What is often overlooked is that discrimination can arise before employment has even started. For example, if an employer says a job application must be completed online, however this is difficult for the applicant with learning disabilities and would prefer to submit a paper application and the employer refuses, this would be discrimination within the recruitment process. Discrimination within the recruitment process also often arises if the applicant has specified that they have a disability on their application. It is unlawful for any employer to ask job applicants about their health or disability or absence record, except in certain specific employment areas where these types of questions are permitted and necessary to the job role. If a recruiter was to refrain from asking job applicants about their health, disability or absence record, this issue could theoretically be avoided.

If an employee has a disability and the workplace implements a provision, criterion, practice or has a physical feature which puts this worker at a disadvantage, this will place a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments. Many employers overlook this duty, or simply refuse to acknowledge it, but the changes required are often very simple. For example, a wheelchair user could be relocated from the first floor to the ground floor. An auxiliary aid could simply be a bigger computer screen for a visually impaired person.

Finally, they may be one of your top performing employees, but this does not mean that they don’t have a disability, especially as this can be a mental impairment. To lower the risk of you treating the disabled person at a disadvantage you may simply need to change your mind set- and the mind set of your staff; a person’s disability is not shown by what they can do at work but is determined by normal day to day activities. For example, the person’s disability may mean that they cannot walk up stairs without difficulty but the workplace may not have any stairs so you don’t know of this. Simply assuming a person is not disabled can be used as evidence of a discriminatory attitude.

If we can help you with dealing with discrimination arising from disability or any other HR issue, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our HR Team at HR Services Scotland Ltd on 0800 652 2610.


For more information about the services that we provide at HR Services Scotland, please get in touch with us here.