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Warning for SMEs Over New Disability Regulations


As the new Disability Discrimination Act amendments come into force there are fears that many small businesses are still unaware of what it will mean for them.

As of today, October 1, the law states that employers with less than 15 staff are no longer exempt from legislation that protects employees with a disability.

Richard Smith, HR expert at Croner Consulting, warned that SMEs could face unlimited fines for disability discrimination if they fail to get to grips with the act.

He said: "Owner-managers of small firms are often too busy to keep up to date with changes in employment legislation, but they will ignore this latest change at their peril as disability discrimination is one of the few types of fines where the compensation can be unlimited.

"Compensation for disability discrimination is frequently in excess of £100,000 - a tribunal will not be lenient for a smaller firm since the amount of compensation is based on the injustice suffered by the claimant, rather than the employer's ability to pay."

Croner Consulting is advising employers that the main areas where they could slip up are during recruitment and when dismissing an employee.

Richard said: "Individuals can bring a claim even before they commence employment if they think they were not offered the job due to a disability. When dismissing an employee who has a disability, the employer must be able to prove that the dismissal was not for this reason."

For example, where an employer is considering dismissing an employee with more than one year's service who is on long term sickness absence, the employer would have to, in any event, follow fair procedures in order to avoid an Unfair Dismissal claim succeeding.

Where the employee has less than one year's service, if the real reason for the dismissal is the absence, employers would be free to terminate the employee on notice without risk of a claim - were it not for the DDA.

Richard said: "This is where employers can get in to hot water, as the DDA applies irrelevant of length of service. Providing employees can show that they are disabled, as defined in the DDA, they will be able to claim discrimination if an employer has dismissed them for a reason connected with that disability, such as their absence.

"We would advise an employer to obtain advice prior to taking any action against a disabled employee to minimise the risk of a fine that could seriously damage their business."


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