If you are an employee or a job applicant and you have a disability, then you have certain rights under UK law. These include the right not to be discriminated against at work or during the recruitment process because of your disability.
If you feel you have been discriminated against on the grounds of disability, you can bring a claim for compensation before an employment tribunal.
You have these rights because of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, commonly referred to as the DDA.
The DDA applies to all employers apart from the armed forces.
A disability can be a physical or mental condition.
What is a disability is defined in law, by the DDA, as:
"A physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities."
This definition may sound vague, but that is because it covers a broad range of health conditions.
As you can see from the definition, the requirements are that the health condition is “substantial”, “adverse” and “long-term”.
For example, a mild bout of depression may be “adverse” but not “long-term” and therefore not a ‘disability’. A more serious depression would be a ‘disability’.
Ultimately, only the courts and tribunals can really decide if an individual’s disability is covered by this definition. However, there are many conditions that almost certainly fall within its scope, meaning the individual can bring a claim against their employer or potential employer before an employment tribunal.
An employment solicitor, law centre advisor or Citizens Advice worker will be able to help you decide if your health condition is likely to be considered to be a ‘disability’.
The following are counted as disabilities as long as they satisfy the test of the DDA, namely, that they are “substantial”, “adverse” and have a “long-term effect”.
Blindness, deafness, heart disease, the paralysis of a limb or severe disfigurement, or any serious physical impairment or weakening of a part of the body through illness or accident, or from birth, are disabilities.
Conditions that affect mobility, manual dexterity, co-ordination, continence, ability to lift objects, speech, ability to concentrate or learn or perceive risk are all considered disabilities.
Conditions that can worsen over time such as cancer, multiple scleroses and HIV/AIDS are regarded as a disability as soon as they are diagnosed, even before they start to affect the individual’s day-to-day activities.
Learning disabilities and all recognised mental illnesses are usually considered to be disabilities.
According to the Citizens Advice Bureau, the following are not currently counted as a disability: hay fever; certain personality disorders such as voyeurism, exhibitionism or a tendency to steal, set fires or physically or sexually abuse other people; tattoos and body piercing; and addiction to alcohol, nicotine or any other substance that has not been prescribed by a doctor. However, damage to health caused by the addiction may be considered a disability.
If you are disabled, your employer has a legal duty to make what are known as “reasonable adjustments” to the workplace to enable you to do your job. If the employer does not do this, they are guilty of discrimination.
Similarly, if you apply for a job then the employer must consider whether they can make “reasonable adjustments” to enable you to do the job. If they do not, then they are discriminating against you.
“Reasonable adjustments” may be fairly simple to carry out, for example, the employer may simply have to install a ramp or widen the spaces between desks to let a wheelchair through. It could mean buying a specially adapted keyboard, letting you start work at a slightly later time, or transferring some of your duties to another employee. They are usually fairly inexpensive to make.
If your employer resists making these adjustments, remind them that they have a legal duty to do so. If they plead poverty, tell them that government grants for 100 per cent of the cost are available, through the ‘Access to Work’ scheme.
More information is available at: www.direct.gov.uk/en/DisabledPeople/Employmentsupport/WorkSchemesAndProgrammes/DG_4000347.
Your employer is legally responsible for ensuring discrimination does not occur in the workplace. This means you should not put up with any discriminatory treatment, such as name calling, being passed over for promotion or being excluded from training opportunities.
You have a right not to be treated “less favourably” than other employees for a reason related to your disability. For example, your employer cannot lawfully discount you for promotion solely because of your disability.
If you feel you have been discriminated against, you may have a right to compensation from your employer. For this, you would be required to bring a claim before an employment tribunal. An employment solicitor, or law centre advisor can advise you further on whether you have a viable case.
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