Dealing with disability in the workplace

Peninsula Team

November 14 2014

The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from discrimination on the grounds of disability and this covers additional areas such as creating a duty to make reasonable adjustments. Dealing with disability does not have to be a nightmare within the workplace. It may be surprising but simple and effective steps can often prevent discrimination from happening and lower the risk of any potential tribunal claims in this area.

Discrimination can happen before employment begins. A simple change to reduce the possibility of this occurring could be by not asking job applicants about their health, disability or absence record. It is generally unlawful to do this, except in certain specific employment areas where these types of questions are permitted and necessary to the job role.

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. This duty also arises if the employee needs an auxiliary aid to help them work. Many employers run scared at the thought of this duty but the adjustments do not have to be drastic, in turn it can be a simple change. For example, if the employee’s disability requires them to use a wheelchair, you can change their place of work from the first floor to the ground floor. An auxiliary aid could simply be a bigger computer screen for a visually impaired person. Another simple reasonable adjustment could be moving the start or end time of a person’s working hours if their disability requires them to take medication which affects their alertness.

Finally, you may not know if you employ a disabled person, defined as a ‘person with a disability’. They may appear to be your top performing, most consistent employee 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; 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 you need any clarification on this issue then contact the Peninsula Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.

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