Wake-up call – Don't discriminate against your disabled workers

13 January 2012
Wake-up call – Don't discriminate against your disabled workers

Most operators have plans in place to help guest with accessibility needs, but what about team members? Legal expert Nicola McMahon explains how to ensure you don't discriminate against disabled workers

Individuals with disabilities may face additional challenges within the workplace and, in an industry where presentation and cost efficiencies are often seen as paramount, employers must ensure that their actions do not discriminate against disabled workers.

The right for workers to be protected against discrimination on grounds of disability in the UK is governed by the Equality Act 2010, which replaced the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

This act protects disabled individuals against discrimination throughout the employment relationship, including recruitment, training, promotions, transfers and dismissals, and prohibits employers from:

â- Discriminating indirectly by applying a provision, criterion or practice to all, but the effect of which is to disadvantage disabled job applicants or workers without objective justification.

â- Treating a disabled worker unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of their disability without objective justification.

â- Failing to make reasonable adjustments to premises or working practices or failing to provide auxiliary aids to prevent substantial disadvantages to disabled workers and job applicants.

â- Subjecting a job applicant or worker to harassment related to disability or to less favourable treatment because they reject or submit to harassment.

â- Victimising a job applicant or worker because they have made or intend to make a disability discrimination complaint, or because they have taken action or intend to take action under the Equality Act 2010.

The question of whether an individual qualifies for protection under the Equality Act 2010 involves consideration of whether they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Certain conditions are automatically deemed to meet the threshold, including blindness, severe disfigurement, cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis, but in other cases a detailed assessment may need to be carried out.

Employers should consider taking the following steps to eradicate disability discrimination from their workplace:

â- If a worker indicates that they may be disabled, a medical opinion should be sought detailing the nature of the illness, whether the medical professional is of the opinion that it amounts to a disability under the Equality Act 2010 and whether there are any adjustments which should be made to reduce any disadvantage suffered by the worker.

â- Ensure a written equality policy is in place which emphasises the value of equality, sets out how the policy is to be implemented in the workplace, conveys the importance of fairness and specifies the consequences of breaching the policy.

â- Actively promote equality throughout the business, from the recruitment stages, through the process for promotion, and in respect of any decisions on termination, ensuring that management and every member of the organisation understands their responsibilities to uphold the policy to combat disability discrimination.

â- Ensure that any complaints of discrimination are taken seriously and investigated, as appropriate, with action taken against anyone found to be in breach of the equality policy. A grievance policy must be in place which clearly states the procedure which workers should take should they feel they have been subject to discrimination.

â- Monitor the effectiveness of policies in place and introduce appropriate updates and training if a need is identified.

If a worker is successful in bringing a claim for disability discrimination in an employment tribunal, there is no set limit on the amount of compensation which can be awarded. Not only can this be costly for employers, but it also could have a negative impact from a PR perspective.

Nicola McMahon is a solicitor at Charles RussellNicola.mcmahon@charlesrussell.co.uk

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