Workplace disability discrimination

Key issues for NEU reps

  • Disability access
  • Workplace disability audits
  • Reasonable adjustments
  • Disability harassment
  • Disability leave and flexible working
  • Mental health and stress at work
  • Health and safety and disability equality

Get to know the law

  • The Equality Act 2010 protects people from discrimination in all aspects of employment, including: 
  • when applying for a job
  • in the terms on which employment is offered
  • in opportunities for training, promotion, or other benefits
  • in the way you are treated by your employer and colleagues
  • in being selected for redundancy or by being dismissed when you have left your job, but still have a relationship with your previous employer e.g., requiring a reference.
  • Further to this, the Act places a proactive duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments to working arrangements or premises. This includes making reasonable adjustments to the application and interview process, and careful consideration about providing references.  
  • The rights of disabled people under the Equality Act 2010 mean employers need to treat disabled people more favourably than someone who is not disabled, in order to overcome the barriers faced, so ensure you explain this to employers who try to argue they need to treat everyone "equally".

What can I do to proactively help my disabled members?

  • Encourage disabled members to declare their disability. This will place the onus directly on the employer to make the necessary reasonable adjustments.
  • Help disabled members to negotiate their reasonable adjustments. Always insist that a proper risk assessment is carried out and referral to OH if necessary. Further information on reasonable adjustments is available on the NEU website.
  • Request that the employer carry out a workplace disability audit. It must assess the impact of their policies and procedures on the people affected by them and take steps to remove any barriers that come to light where it is proportionate to do so. This includes carrying out reasonable adjustments.
  • Does the employer have a disability leave policy? If not – can you get one agreed?
  • Could the employer do more to improve staff mental health and reduce stress due to unrealistic workloads? Read the NEU's Mental Health Charter.
  • Employ best practice in disability equality and supporting disabled members in your union group meetings.

How to help a member who is being discriminated against?

  • Incapability is a potentially fair reason to dismiss an employee, although a failure to make reasonable adjustments may make such dismissal unfair and/or discriminatory.
  • Many employers use a trigger system to move through the stages of sickness absence management. Even if disability leave is not appropriate you could ask the employer to change the trigger as a reasonable adjustment.
  • If your member is refused reasonable adjustments, they may need to raise this as a grievance.
  • Always make sure reasonable adjustments are in place during any formal meetings.
  • Attend workplace reps training and equality officer training, details here.