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Disability Discrimination

Disability Discrimination

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As one of nine protected characteristics, employees cannot be discriminated against on the grounds of a disability, as covered by the Equality Act 2010.

Despite this legislation, it’s an issue that is still prevalent for disabled workers around the UK.

Disability discrimination occurs when an individual is treated unfavourably as a result of a disability that they have or have had in the past, and it is an area of HR that business owners and managers must be positively engaged with to ensure that disability bias does not occur in their workplace.

Men and women living with a whole host of disabilities can, and do lead full and rewarding lives and make excellent team members, just like their colleagues without disabilities. To discriminate against this group in any form as a result of their disability is both illegal and unfair.

There are plenty of points in an employee’s life cycle with their employer that can cause disability discrimination conflicts including; building access, equal pay, work location, part-time working, recruitment, bullying and harassment, redundancy and dismissal.

It’s important therefore that you as an employer do all that you reasonably can to prevent disability discrimination in your workplace and recognise the benefits of an inclusive and diverse workforce which doesn’t exclude disabled people.

Reviewing your workplace policies, culture and staff understanding on this topic is a good place to start the conversation around reducing disability discrimination taking place either directly or indirectly at any time or any point in an employee’s period of employment with you.

Read on for examples of different types of disability discrimination and the actions that you can take to ensure that you uphold good employment and working practices to give everyone a fair opportunity to progress at work regardless of whether they live with a disability or not. 

When Can Disability Discrimination Occur?

Disability discrimination occurs when you treat people differently as a result of something arising from them having a disability.

Regardless of personal feelings towards other individuals, it is illegal to discriminate, harass or victimise employees and workers, contractors and self-employed people or job applicants as a result of their disability at any stage in their employment including;

  • when they apply for a job;
  • their terms and conditions;
  • part-time and flexible working arrangements;
  • pay and benefits;
  • training, development, promotion and appraisals;
  • dismissal, redundancy and retirement.

What Is Disability Discrimination?

Disability discrimination takes many forms including treating someone less favourably because:

  • they have a condition or impairment considered a disability by law
  • it’s believed they have a disability even if that’s not true
  • they know someone who’s disabled, for example, a family member, friend or colleague
  • they have another association with disability, for example, they volunteer for a disability charity

The Law protects individuals with current disabilities but also protects individuals who are no longer disabled but have previously had a disability.

Examples of what disability discrimination may look like for someone who is no longer disabled may look like is:

  • Being turned down for a promotion due to a high absence rate which the employer knew was due to an injury or disability at the time.
  • Harassment or penalisation at work due to past mental health conditions

Disability Discrimination Occurs In A Variety Of Ways:

Employees can raise disability discrimination cases if they feel that they or a colleague have been negatively treated by either you, their employer, or another colleague or contractor in the workplace.

When reports are raised, you must fully investigate the incident and handle conversations sensitively and efficiently.

Discrimination law covers:

  • direct or indirect discrimination – when someone is put at a disadvantage and treated less favourably because of their current or previous disability
  • harassment – when bullying or unwanted behaviour is related to a current or past disability
  • victimisation – when someone is treated differently or less favourably because they made or supported a complaint against another colleague relating to disability, or somebody thinks that they did.

Your Role As An Employer

Inclusion concept graphic showing multi coloured people icons with different disabilities

As an employer, you have a duty of care to look after the well-being of your employees. It is also your responsibility to do all that you can to protect people from and take steps to prevent discrimination at work.

Breaches of these responsibilities can lead to legal cases of discrimination being brought against the individual or company concerned.

  • As an employer, you must take steps to prevent disability discrimination from happening
  • As an employer, you must make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees and job applicants
  • Public sector organisations have an additional legal responsibility under the public sector equality duty
  • Failure to act on these responsibilities can result in discriminatory action being raised against you.

Managers should ensure that their workforce understands what disability discrimination is, how it may present itself, the measures in place to tackle any bias that may exist, and how they can raise concerns if they witness or experience discrimination of this kind at work.

It is also important that leadership teams recognise the benefits of having an inclusive and diverse workforce that doesn’t exclude disabled people. When dealing with complaints, managers should handle these conversations professional and compassionately.

Whilst navigating business decisions regarding employees that possess protected characteristics can feel like a minefield at times, it is not always against the law for you to make a decision based on an individual disability. We would recommend that you always seek trusted legal advice first though.

Things You Can Do

Keeping conversations around disabilities at work open and free-flowing shows that you are open to running a diverse and inclusive workplace environment.

  • Consider having an inclusion policy. Whilst not a legal requirement, it does demonstrate that you are taking reasonable steps to prevent discrimination from occurring and that you take your legal and moral obligations for employee welfare seriously. Sharing this along with your discrimination policy with your team will ensure your staff know what is expected of them, your commitments to supporting a diverse workplace and that you have a zero-tolerance for discrimination and the consequences of breaching these expected behaviours.
  • Ensure that your promotion pathways, performance review processes and development opportunities are inclusive for all, regardless of disability.
  • Having a lead person responsible for driving awareness of inclusion for disabled workers and providing support and training on these matters can be a great way to set the right examples
  • Recruitment and selection processes must be fair and without discrimination based on disability. Focus on the wording and imagery used to attract a variety of applicants and include a diversity statement in your advertisements.


  • Disability discrimination occurs when an individual is treated unfavourably as a result of a disability that they have or have had in the past.
  • As an employer, you must take steps to prevent disability discrimination from happening
  • As an employer, you must make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees and job applicants
  • Failure to do so can result in discriminatory action being raised against you.
  • Line managers should be trained to spot signs of discriminatory behaviour in their teams and know how to act to address it fairly and consistently.
  • Complaints should be managed swiftly and with respect.

There are plenty of positive steps that you can take to remove disability bias in the workplace from recruitment, contracts, promotion, working arrangements and beyond.

Our team can help you with writing policies, managing disability discrimination cases raised at work and the best ways to raise staff awareness of the issue, so please get in touch.

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About The Author.

James Rowland

James Rowland

James is the Commercial Director at Neathouse Partners. He is responsible for all Account Management, Sales & Marketing within the company. Having gained a BSc in Psychology and further study for his post-grad Law degree, James embarked on his legal career in 2014. Since then, he has become an Associate Director at a national Employment Law boutique, studied for a Masters in Marketing, and as of 2018, been a Director at Neathouse Partners. Outside of the office, James is a keen cricketer, playing very badly (he calls himself a Batsman but averages single figures) in the Cheshire League for Nantwich CC. He also loves watching his childhood football team, Crewe Alexandra, and is an avid lover of cinema (his favourite film being Pulp Fiction). Feel free to connect with James on LinkedIn.
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