Disability Rights in the workplace – what you or your clients need to know
The UK has a legal framework to protect disabled people, including an obligation on all employers to remove disadvantages experienced by disabled people in the workplace.
While the percentage of disabled people in work continues to lag behind non-disabled employees, there are positive signs that the gap is closing, albeit slowly. The percentage gap has reduced from 40% in 1998 to 28% in 2021, with 53.5% of disabled people in work compared to 81.6% of non-disabled people.
Despite these encouraging signs, physical and unseen barriers remain for disabled employees and job applicants. It is vital for disabled people to understand their rights and the range of support their employer must provide.
The Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act makes it unlawful for employers (and their staff) to discriminate against employees, workers and job applicants because of their disability. The Equality Act also imposes a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments to overcome disadvantages suffered by disabled people.
The Equality Act defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment… which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”.
UK Courts have held that ‘substantial’ means anything more that trivial. Therefore severe limb injuries, amputations, chronic pain and nerve damage conditions would all meet this definition of disability.
Whilst a physical disability is often more obvious to an employer, it is widely recognised that severe limb injuries can have a considerable psychological impact on people. Related mental health conditions, such as PTSD, depression and anxiety, are often harder to spot but can also constitute a disability under the Equality Act.
The duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments is a cornerstone of the Equality Act. It requires employers to take positive steps to ensure that disabled people can access and progress in employment.
This goes beyond simply ‘levelling the playing field’ but means providing support that non-disabled workers and applicants are not entitled to, examples of which can be seen below. Failing to make reasonable adjustments is an unlawful act of discrimination.
Employers are required to take reasonable steps in three situations to: