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Managing disability in the workplace

Often when people think ‘disability’ their minds jump to people with physical disabilities such as those who use wheelchairs. But in the workplace, disability can refer to physical, intellectual, psychiatric, sensory, neurological, and learning disabilities. Even people with Hepatitis C or HIV are counted as having a disability.

The Department for Education Green Paper Support and Aspiration found that less than one in 20 people with a mental or physical disability are in paid employment.

On a more positive note, under the current government the number of disabled people in the UK in work has increased by around 100,000 since 2015.

The Equality Act 2010 provides disabled people with protection from discrimination in range of areas including employment.

There are four types of discrimination:

1. Direct – a person has not been employed because of their disability
2. Indirect – disadvantaged because of workplace rules
3. Harassment – unwanted conduct from others
4. Victimisation – treating someone unfairly due to them supporting a disability claim

Employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to the working environment in order to accommodate disabled employees. This can include for example, providing a special chair, voice recognition systems, adapted keyboard or mouse or the ability to work from home.  It does not mean changing any functions that are critical to the role.

If an employee feels that they have wrongly been discriminated against because of their disability, they can take their claim before an Employment Tribunal.  Employees are however advised to first discuss the issues with their employer in order to sort out any issues, prior to issuing any claim.

To be clear, discrimination can take place in a number of different ways:

• When recruiting and selecting for new posts
• Promotions
• Determining pay
• During training and development
• When addressing discipline or grievances
• Whenever bullying or harassment is being addressed

As an employer you shouldn’t ask an employee at the job application stage to reveal personal details about their disability.

Employers should not disclose to others details about an employees disability, unless they have been given permission to do so by the individual concerned.

In some circumstances, an employer may be able to justify their decision to not employ an individual with a disability, if they will be unable to fulfil the inherent requirements of a job. For example, someone who is say registered blind in one eye may not meet the requirements to fly commercial planes or be a delivery driver.

Don’t assume anything! Get advice from the HR Department or Occupational Health specialist, as well as the person themselves.

If you would like to discuss an Employment Law issue, please contact our Employment Team on 01527 912912

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