It is against the law for an employer to discriminate against the disabled. In order to create a more inclusive workforce various governments have introduced successive pieces of legislation in order to address this situation. Here are some examples in order to ensure that you as an employer comply with the law.
The Equality 2010 Act
The 2010 Act is the framework that employers should refer to in order to ensure that they are not breaking the law and discriminating against the disabled. According to this act anyone can be classified as disabled if they ‘have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long term negative effect on normal daily activities.’ Many companies are now required to offer employees extensive health tests, discounts on essentials such as hearing aids and health checks for any who fear their hearing may be impaired.
Bullying is Discrimination
Many disabled people are bullied. This practice is vile and is usually the act of cowards, which doesn’t excuse this action. Under the 2010 Act an employer has a responsibility to ensure that all members of the workforce feel safe, and that those who are disabled are never taunted or harassed as a result of their disability. If an employer or co-worker notices that a disabled colleague is being bullied they must take steps to address the situation.
A wheelchair user can easily work alongside able bodied members of staff but employers have to ensure that the toilet and washing facilities are adapted for them. A useful point of reference is the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance to employers. The HSE advises that you ‘must so far as is reasonably practicable provide adequate and appropriate welfare facilities for (them) while they are at work.’
This guidance also applies to any other adjustments that might need to be made to accommodate a disabled employee; these might include desk height, lift access and other enhancements.
Treating everyone equally
The 2010 Act states that as an employer you would be breaking the law if you treat someone ‘less favourably because they are disabled than someone without a disability would be treated under the same circumstances.’ In other words if Cambridge University selected a more mediocre able bodied scientist as Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology simply because they were not wheelchair bound and overlooked Stephen Hawking because he was, that could be seen as discrimination.
The Citizen's Advice sets out very clearly guidance to employers and employees about the 2010 Act on its website. It’s a useful exercise for an employer to put themselves into the shoes of the disabled to try and visualise some of the issues that might arise when working.
An employer should always discuss any modifications that should be made to the workplace with their employee. The term ‘reasonable’ is used throughout the legislation, and as long as an employer gives their disabled co-worker the same rights and benefits as the rest of the workforce as well as those that take disability into account their company will be compliant with the Act.