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Sophie van der Singel

AWH Legal

Marketing Manager

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Combatting disability discrimination at work


Combatting disability discrimination within your organisation

What is disability discrimination?

Disability discrimination refers to a situation where someone is treated less favourably because they have a disability or are perceived as having a disability.

Even though the UK has had laws in place for over 40 years protecting the rights of disabled people, discrimination remains a present issue and continues to affect the lives and careers of many disabled individuals.  

Disability discrimination in the workplace

Research has found that employers with diverse workforces are looked upon more favourably by customers and job seekers alike. However, prejudice against disabled employees continues to be a very common form of discrimination to arise in the workplace.

It’s incredibly important that you, as an employer, constantly strive for a fairer and more inclusive workplace – and this doesn’t just mean improving attitudes. You should be looking to create more opportunities for disabled people to join your company as evidence has revealed that disabled employees have often been ‘shut out of the job market’ as a result of disability discrimination.

Research on disability discrimination

An Opinium report surveyed more than 2,000 disabled people and found that 37% of them felt unconfident about finding employment in the future, stating that employers would be reluctant to hire them because of their impairment.

Additional figures show that more than half of all respondents had previously applied for a job which they were over-qualified for, out of concern that their disability made them less attractive candidates.

How is disability discrimination affecting people?

When it comes to the workplace, it’s an unfortunate fact that disability discrimination occurs in many different forms, and often starts in the recruitment process.

The UK’s disability employment gap is regrettable proof of this.

The disability employment gap shows the difference in rates of employment between disabled and non-disabled people, and currently stands at an average of 31.3%. This is three times as large as the UK’s average gender pay gap.

According to Citizens Advice, only 49% of people with disabilities or health conditions are in employment – and around half of those people have experienced bullying at work because of their impairments.  

We should all be working towards closing the disability employment gap together – and not just in order to correct what is a serious inequality issue.

Having members of staff on your team with disabilities can actually benefit your business in a variety of ways, including having a wider selection of talent and improved company image. You are also significantly less likely to face legal issues relating to discrimination or equal opportunities, which is something all employers should aspire for.

Making reasonable adjustments

Employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled members of staff and failing to do so will actually be classified as disability discrimination.

You should discuss with your employee what kinds of adjustments they would appreciate or require as it is primarily around their needs.  The requirements of workers can vary greatly depending on the nature of their disability and job role.

For example, an employee with vision problems might request a special computer screen or visual aid. An employee with physical impairments may need alternative forms of transport in order to get to work, or an employee with severe depression might seek to work more flexibly. In some instances, you might find that you simply need to amend your disciplinary procedure so that disabled employees are listed as an exception and therefore not penalised for something they cannot control. When interviewing potential new employees, you must not ask them if they have any disabilities, but you should ask if they require any adjustments to be made throughout the recruitment process.

Griffiths v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

One of the most notable discrimination cases relating to an employer’s duty to make adjustments would be Griffiths v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (SoS), which occurred back in 2015.

Ms Griffiths worked as an administrative assistant at SoS and suffered from post viral fatigue and fibromyalgia, which eventually caused her to take 62 continuous days off as sick leave. The absence management policy used by the SoS was designed to penalise any employee who took 8 days or more off in a 12-month period, which meant that Ms Griffiths was given a formal warning when she returned to work. Despite submitting a grievance and persisting that the absence policy should be tailored to exclude employees with disabilities, Ms Griffiths’ requests fell upon deaf ears. She went on to successfully claim for disability discrimination against her employer.

The employment tribunal ruled that the policy had put Ms Griffiths at a substantial disadvantage in comparison to non-disabled employees. They further ruled that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions had ignored their duty to make reasonable adjustments for her.

This decision serves as an incredibly important warning to employers who might be unsure of their obligations relating to disabled employees.

Access to Work schemes

Access to Work is a national program created by Jobcentre Plus, designed to help disabled people get easier access to employment. The programs are designed uniquely with the needs of the worker in mind and one of the main ways they help employers is by subsidising the cost of special aids and equipment.

Typically it is employees who will apply for the scheme, but employers will then receive a grant to help them meet the costs of arranging suitable assistance that enables the worker to do their job properly. This grant can be used to appoint mental health support workers, cover transport costs and make adaptions to everyday equipment.

In March 2018, the Access to Work grant was increased by 38%, meaning that the maximum amount an employee can claim is now £57,000.

Author Profile Picture
Sophie van der Singel

Marketing Manager

Read more from Sophie van der Singel

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