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Tackling Disability Discrimination in the Workplace

Jun 13, 2022

A diverse workforce is essential for any business to be successful in the modern world. Employees with different backgrounds and perspectives bring new ideas and creativity to the workplace. However, many people with disabilities face discrimination in the workplace. This is often due to a lack of understanding about how to accommodate employees with disabilities.

There are a number of ways that businesses can tackle disability discrimination in the workplace. Throughout this guide, we will explore some of the key ways businesses can ensure that their workplace is inclusive for all, with insights into exactly how you can tackle disability discrimination in the workplace.


What is Disability Discrimination in the Workplace?

Disability discrimination in the workplace includes any direct or indirect discrimination, harassment, victimisation, or vilification based on a person’s disability or an attribute (e.g. physical, intellectual, mental, psychiatric) that they have in common with other people with disabilities.

Disability discrimination in the workplace can be based on the disability itself, discrimination arising from disability or the association with a disabled person — all defined as “unfavourable or offensive” conduct that should be educated and tackled in all organisations.

How and when can disability discrimination happen?

If a disabled person is treated less favourably than a non-disabled person in the same or similar circumstances, this is discrimination. For example, an employer may refuse to interview a job applicant who has a disability, even though they have the necessary skills and experience for the role.

Disability discrimination can also happen between disabled people and non-disabled people. For instance, a disabled person may be harassed by co-workers because of their disability. The environment and culture that your company provides for employees is a key factor in this kind of discrimination.

What counts as disability discrimination in the workplace?

There are many ways in which discrimination can occur in the workplace. Some examples include:

  • Refusing to interview or employ a job applicant with a disability
  • Firing disabled employees because of their disability
  • Paying a disabled employee less than non-disabled employees
  • Failing to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace for a disabled employee
  • Bullying or harassing a disabled employee because of their disability.


What are the consequences of discrimination?

Discrimination can cause physical, emotional and psychological harm. It can also lead to financial hardship, as disabled people may lose their job or be paid less than their non-disabled counterparts. Discrimination can also limit opportunities for career advancement and make it difficult for disabled people to find employment. Though times are changing, disability discrimination can still be a very real problem in the workplace. 

Note: If you have experienced discrimination, there are steps you can take to address it, and if you are an employer, there are ways you can prevent it from happening in your workplace.

How do you address disability discrimination?

Discrimination can be addressed in a number of ways. If you have noticed discrimination happening in your workplace, you can:

  • Talk to the person affected by the discrimination and ask them how they would like the situation to be handled.
  • Raise the issue with your employer, leadership team or human resources department. They may be able to offer support or resolve the issue internally.
  • Make a complaint to the Equal Opportunity Commission or other relevant complaints body. This can help bring about change in your workplace and may result in compensation for those who have been affected by discrimination.


Types of Disability Discrimination in the Workplace

There are many types of disability discrimination, however, three types of disability discrimination applicable in the workplace include:

  • Direct Discrimination
  • Indirect Discrimination
  • Systemic Discrimination.

Let’s take a closer look at some examples of these types of discrimination.


What are examples of direct disability discrimination?

Direct discrimination can occur when a disabled person is refused employment based on their disability, treated disrespectfully, harrassed or paid less by their employer due to their disability.

Direct discrimination can also occur when an employer sets requirements that are difficult or impossible for a disabled person to meet, such as a requirement to lift heavy objects when the applicant has a musculoskeletal condition.

What are examples of indirect disability discrimination?

Indirect discrimination can occur when an organisation has policies or practices that appear to be fair but actually have a negative impact on employees or applicants with disabilities. For example, an employer might have a policy of not allowing personal appointments during working hours. This would indirectly discriminate against disabled employees who need to take time off for medical appointments or treatments.

What are examples of systemic discrimination?

Systemic discrimination is when an organisation’s structures, systems or processes disadvantage employees or applicants with disabilities. This can include things like a lack of reasonable adjustments in the workplace. Systemic discrimination can also occur when an employer has a culture that is not welcoming or inclusive of disabled people.



How Can Employers Tackle Disability Discrimination in the Workplace?

1. Invest in Disability Awareness Training

One way to prevent disability discrimination at work is to invest in disability awareness training for all employees. This type of training can help employees to understand more about disabilities and the impact that discrimination can have on disabled people. It can also help to create a more inclusive culture in the workplace.

Recognizing that disabled employees are capable of performing a wide range of tasks and roles, as well as interacting successfully with other people, is an important step toward improving the workplace culture. Disability awareness training can help to break down preconceptions and foster understanding by encouraging everyone in the business to be treated fairly, respectfully, and enabled to succeed.

2. Understand the Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 is the main piece of legislation that protects disabled people from discrimination in the UK. The Act covers a wide range of areas, including employment, education, and access to goods, services, and premises.

It is important for employers to be aware of the Equality Act and to make sure that their workplace policies and practices comply with the Act. To ensure that you are complying with the Equality Act, you can seek advice from an employment law solicitor or the Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS).

3. Make Reasonable Adjustments

Under the Equality Act 2010, employers are required to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees. This means making changes to the workplace, equipment, or working hours to enable disabled employees to carry out their role effectively.

Some examples of making reasonable adjustments include:

  • Allowing flexibility for doctors appointments or other medical appointments
  • Installing a wheelchair ramp or lift
  • Making adjustments to computer equipment
  • Changing shift patterns.

It is important to note that not all disabled employees will need the same reasonable adjustments. The type of adjustment that is needed will depend on the individual’s specific circumstances and needs. To assess this accurately and understand what adjustments or technology will truly benefit your staff, it’s important to conduct workplace needs assessments for employees with disabilities.

4. Provide Adequate Assistive Technology

Once you have conducted your workplace assessments, you will need to provide the adequate assistive technology to support your employees needs and requirements.

Assistive technology is any kind of technology that can be used to improve the functioning of people with disabilities. This can include things like screen-reading software for blind or visually impaired people, or speech-to-text software for people who are deaf or have hearing impairments.

Employers should provide adequate assistive technology in the workplace to enable disabled employees to carry out their roles effectively. However, employers should also be aware that disabled employees may need additional training in how to use the technology.

5. Offer Mental Health Training 

Mental health conditions are classified as disabilities under the Equality Act 2010. This means that employers also have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees with mental health conditions.

Offering mental health training to employees can help to reduce the stigma around mental health and create a more supportive and inclusive culture in the workplace. Mental health awareness training can also help employees to understand how to support colleagues who are experiencing mental health problems.

6. Lead by Example

As an employer, you can set the tone for how employees should treat disabled colleagues. Showing respect for disabled employees and valuing their contributions can help to create a more inclusive culture in the workplace.

You should ensure that your leadership team embodies the values of inclusivity and respect. This can be done by ensuring that your leadership team is diverse and includes people with disabilities. You can also lead by example by creating organisational policies and practices that are inclusive of disabled people, including regular workplace needs assessments, and more.

Creating an inclusive workplace culture is an important step toward improving the workplace for everyone. By promoting disability awareness and understanding, you can help to break down barriers and create a more supportive and respectful environment for all employees. 



Understanding Your Rights: Disability Discrimination FAQs

Is it against the law for an employer to discriminate against you because of a disability?

Yes. Unlawful discrimination against a disabled employee can happen in many different ways, and it is completely against the law. If you have been treated unfairly at work because of your disability, you may be able to take action under the Equality Act 2010.

How can you report disability discrimination in the workplace? 

If you think you have been subjected to disability discrimination, you should first raise or report the issue with your employer. This can be done by speaking to your manager or human resources department. If you are not satisfied with the response you receive, you can make a disability discrimination claim to an employment tribunal.

Making a disability discrimination claim can be a complex process, so it is important to seek legal advice before taking any action.

Is it illegal to ask for proof of disability in the UK?

If an employer decides to make reasonable adjustments for a disabled employee, they may need to see evidence of the employee’s disability. However, employers should not ask for proof of disability unless it is absolutely necessary.

If an employer does ask for proof of disability, they should only request information that is relevant to the type of reasonable adjustment that is being made. For example, an employer may need to see a medical report if the reasonable adjustment being made is related to an employee’s health condition.

If, however, an employer threatens to dismiss an employee or refuse to make reasonable adjustments unless they provide proof of their disability, this may be considered unlawful discrimination.

What counts as a disability at work?

Disability in the workplace could include any physical or mental impairment that has a long term effect on an individual’s ability to do their job. This could include a physical disability, hearing impairment, cancer, a mental health condition, multiple sclerosis, or any other condition that has a long-term effect on an individual’s ability to work.

It could also include conditions that are not immediately apparent, such as anxiety disorders and depression.

What are my rights if I’m disabled and looking for work?

If you’re disabled and looking for work, you have the same rights as any other job seeker. This means that employers must not discriminate against you because of your disability. Disability discrimination arising from preconceived assumptions or stereotypes is also against the law.

What is disability discrimination against a job applicant?

Disability discrimination during the recruitment process can happen if an applicant is at a substantial disadvantage due to their disability. This could include being rejected for the job outright, or being treated less favourably than other applicants during the interview process.


Looking For Accredited Support To Tackle Disability Discrimination in Your Company?

At Thriiver, we have been empowering people to achieve for over 25 years, with assistive technology products and training, disability awareness training, workplace needs assessments, and much more. Our services are also accredited by leading bodies, so you can be sure you’re getting the best possible support for your organisation.

If you would like to find out more about how we can help you tackle disability discrimination in your workplace, please get in touch with our team today!

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