Disability discrimination and employment law

If you are a job applicant or employee with a disability, you have all of the legal employment rights and protections of any other employee or job seeker. These however are augmented by the provisions of the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).

Provisions of the DDA

The DDA dictates that employers cannot discriminate against job applicants or company employees because of a disability. Specifically, they cannot discriminate on grounds of disability when it comes to recruiting, implementing terms and conditions including pay, promoting, disciplining, managing, or dismissing a member of staff or applicant.

Workplace harassment

The act also outlaws workplace harassment or bullying of an applicant or member of staff based on their disability. This includes any unwanted behaviour which ridicules, belittles, intimidates or humiliates a disabled person by referencing their disability. It also includes any negatively expressed comment about disability more generally.

Reasonable adjustment

Another provision of the act is that employers have a responsibility to make ‘reasonable adjustment’ to workplace premises to accommodate the needs of an employee or applicant with a disability. Reasonable adjustment applies where the person with a disability is either currently at a disadvantage to able-bodied employees and the employee could be reasonably expected to be affected by that fact.

What reasonable adjustment covers

In consultation with you, your employer or interviewer can reasonably be asked to make such adjustments as sharing your workload, adding flexibility to your hours, providing a reader or interpreter or making instruction manuals more accessible. They can also be asked to adapt the work premises, for example adding ramps or lifts for access and adapting equipment you use to make it more disability friendly.

What’s reasonable?

What constitutes a reasonable adjustment is not always a simple decision. An important consideration in any dispute is whether the proposed adjustment will help the person with the disability either stay at work or return to work. Sometimes it is useful to bring in an external consultant with disability expertise to help determine the efficacy of any change, for example an occupational health advisor.

During any discussion, there will always be a weighing of advantages against disadvantages. It is important to consider how effective any adjustment will be in ameliorating any disadvantage you are currently experiencing. The degree of advantage then needs to be weighed against potential disruption it might cause, and the cost implications for the viability of the business.

Advice on potential adjustments and assistance in gaining financial assistance for these can be found by contacting the Access to Work programme.

Disability discrimination and mediation

One of the most effective ways of resolving disability disputes in the workplace is through disability mediation. Mediation has the advantage over more traditional litigation in that it brings the disputing parties into direct contact and allows each party to present their point of view to the other. This often helps parties to reach a constructive resolution of their dispute that mends fences and allows them to build a positive working relationship moving forward.

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