Employment rights and the Disability Discrimination Act

People with disabilities share the same general employment rights as other job-seekers and employees but there are also some special terms for them under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA).

Disability Discrimination Act

Under the DDA, it is unlawful for employers to subject job seekers or employees with disabilities to disability discrimination. The law covers all aspects of employment from recruitment through to the ending of the employment and beyond (for example, provision of employment references), including:

  • arrangements for recruiting and selecting new staff
  • terms and conditions of employment, including pay and benefits
  • promotion, transfer or training opportunities
  • work placement opportunities
  • disciplinary procedures
  • performance management and attendance procedures
  • dismissal or redundancy
  • occupational pensions
  • the way that the work is arranged and performed
  • the physical features of an employer’s premises

Another important protection is that the law also outlaws disability-related harassment (or, bullying) against people with disabilities in the workplace - that is unwanted behaviour, whether intended or not, that is related to disability and which causes feelings such as offence or humiliation or hurt.

It can include behaviour such as name-calling or making fun of a person’s disability or of making fun of people with disabilities generally.

Reasonable adjustments in the workplace

There is also a special form of disability discrimination that occurs where an employer is under a duty to make reasonable adjustments for a particular job applicant or employee with a disability and fails to keep to it.

Failing to meet the duty cannot be justified and is always unlawful.

An employer will be under a duty to make reasonable adjustments for a job applicant or employee with a disability if the following conditions apply:

  • the person with a disability is at a large disadvantage compared to people who do not have a disability
  • any provision, criterion or practice applied by the employer, or any physical feature of premises occupied by the employer
  • the employer knows, or could reasonably be expected to know, that the person with a disability is disabled and is suffering the said disadvantage, or is likely to

Where the employer is under the duty, he/she is required to take such steps as are reasonable to take, in all the circumstances of the case, in order to prevent the disabled person from suffering the said disadvantage.

Examples of adjustments

Examples of the sort of adjustments your employer, or prospective employer, should consider, in consultation with you, include:

  • allocating some of your work to someone else
  • transferring you to another post or another place of work
  • making adjustments to the buildings where you work
  • being flexible about your hours - allowing you to have different core working hours and to be away from the office for assessment, treatment or rehabilitation
  • providing training or retraining if you cannot do your current job any longer
  • providing modified equipment
  • making instructions and manuals more accessible
  • providing a reader or interpreter

Things to consider at work

When is an adjustment a reasonable one? This is the most important question and also the hardest to answer. It all depends on the circumstances. What is reasonable in one situation may not be reasonable in others. The primary aim of the duty is to allow people with disabilities to get work, stay in work or return to work. So, an important consideration will always be whether a proposed adjustment will help to achieve that goal. But there are a number of other factors that may need to be taken into account too.

You can play an active role in discussing these arrangements with your employer. You might also want to encourage your employer to speak to someone with expertise in providing work-related help for people with disabilities, such as an occupational health adviser.

Issues for you both to consider include:

  • how effective will an adjustment be?
  • will it mean that your disability is slightly less of a disadvantage or will it significantly reduce the disadvantage?
  • is it practical?
  • will it cause much disruption?
  • will it help other people in the workplace?
  • is the cost prohibitive?

You may want to make sure that your employer is aware of the Access to Work programme and other employment support schemes. Through these programmes, employers can get advice on suitable adjustments and possibly some financial help towards the cost of the adjustments.

Equality Commission for Northern Ireland

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland is a good source of advice if you feel you may have been discriminated against at work or in the provision of goods, facilities or services.

It can also help if you think you have been discriminated against and want to lodge a claim at an Industrial Tribunal (employment cases) or County Court (goods, facilities and services cases).

It also provides free advice and guidance to employers and service providers on recommended good practice under the Disability Discrimination Act.

For more information, contact the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland



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