Disability discrimination in the workplace
The Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal for an employer or future employer to discriminate against individuals based on disability. The Act defines a disability as being “a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial or long term negative effect on your ability to do daily activities.”
“Substantial” refers to an impairment which is more than trivial and “long term”means 12 months or more.
Discrimination can include not hiring someone due to their disability or paying them less than others for no good reason. It can also extend to the job recruitment process, such as outlining specific requirements of the role which may discriminate. For example, by saying that the role does not cater to people with a disability.
What is “reasonable adjustment”?
The most common type of discrimination in the workplace relates to failure to make reasonable adjustment. “Reasonable adjustment” refers to a failure to change the working environment to allow someone to be able to work in the role without being disadvantaged. This could include making physical changes such as adding a ramp for wheelchair users, placing files within reach, having specific equipment or providing extra support. This can also extend to reducing work hours or allowing a person to have regular breaks. The adjustment that is made will depend on the disability and what can be done to allow an individual to undergo their daily tasks in the workplace.
Reasonable adjustment and mental health
A mental health condition is considered a disability where it has a long term effect on an ability to undergo day-to-day activities like using a computer or interacting with others. This can include dementia, depression or bipolar disorder.
In a case in 2017, a woman who was suffering from panic attacks and depression asked her employer to reduce her work hours as this was contributing to her mental health issues. Her employer took 14 months to process this request and was found to have discriminated against the employee under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
The tribunal outlined that the employer failed to make reasonable adjustments to allow the woman to undergo her daily tasks without negative effect. Allowing reduced hours would contribute positively to her mental health and this was not dealt with appropriately or in a timely manner by the employer.
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