Under the Equality Act 2010, disability is a protected characteristic. This means that employers are not able to discriminate against any employee, job applicant or contractor based on a disability, a perceived disability, or the disability of someone they are associated with.
If you have a disability, and your employer is aware of it – or should be aware of it because it is obvious – then they have a duty to ensure that you are not discriminated against at work.
Discrimination comes in many forms, from direct discrimination, to harassment and victimisation, and is not limited to the disabled person themselves. Family members of a disabled person that may need to take time off work for hospital appointments or to care for their family member may find themselves discriminated against for taking extra time off work, for example.
Some examples of the types of discrimination can be found below:
Direct discrimination – treating someone differently because they have a disability – includes passing someone over for a promotion because they are disabled or dismissing them from a role because of it.
Indirect discrimination includes workplace policies that cover all employees but put a disabled employee at a disadvantage. This can include absence management policies that result in disciplinary action as sickness due to a disability may be higher.
Discrimination arising from a disability can include a poor reaction about the disability – such as not allowing extra time for the completion of tasks.
Harassment, including humiliating a disabled person, making offensive or degrading comments, falls under discrimination according to the Equality Act. If the disabled person is victimised because of a complaint relating to discrimination, this can be another issue that can be brought to the table.
Under the Equality Act, employers must make reasonable adjustments so that the disabled person can work. It is up to the employer to make these adjustments to support the disabled person in their role.
Reasonable adjustments can include reallocating roles, or swapping jobs, being redeployed into another role, reducing workload or more regular breaks. This can also include adjusted or appropriate equipment being provided, like ramps, or specialised computer screens.
If reasonable adjustments need to be made, it is not necessarily up to you to decide what those might be. The onus is on the employer, who may consult with an employment lawyer, to make suggestions about what reasonable adjustments might be made.
If you feel that you are being discriminated against in the workplace because of your disability, the first thing you should do is contact an employment law specialist who is qualified to help you take further action.
Employers cannot treat you differently because you are disabled. They must make reasonable adjustments to the workplace, or your role, so that you are not put at a disadvantage. There are a few cases where this is not possible, and an employee lawyer can help you discover what you need to do.