Disability discrimination

Please note: the ATL website is no longer being updated and will be taken down soon.

Visit the new NEU website

Rights and conditions
02 November 2016
The Equality Act 2010 requires employers to make 'reasonable adjustments' to premises or working practices to ensure that employees are not disadvantaged because of their disability.

You're disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a 'substantial' and 'long-term' negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.

The Equality Act 2010 doesn't apply to Northern Ireland - find out more on NI Direct.

What 'substantial' and 'long-term' mean

The terms are defined as follows:

  • 'substantial' is more than minor or trivial - eg it takes much longer than it usually would to complete a daily task like getting dressed
  • 'long-term' means 12 months or more - eg a breathing condition that develops as a result of a lung infection.

There are special rules about recurring or fluctuating conditions, for example, arthritis. For more details about the special rules download the government's Equality Act guidance.

Progressive conditions

A progressive condition is a condition that gets worse over time. People with progressive conditions can be classed as disabled. However, you automatically meet the disability definition under the Equality Act 2010 from the day you're diagnosed with HIV infection, cancer or multiple sclerosis.

What isn't counted as a disability

Some conditions aren't covered by the disability definition. These include addiction to non–prescribed drugs or alcohol. To find out about the conditions which aren't covered, download the Equality Act guidance.

Duty to implement reasonable adjustments

Employers are obliged to make reasonable adjustments to premises or working arrangements to prevent a disabled person from being placed at a substantial disadvantage compared with persons who are not disabled.

In educational establishments, adjustment to premises can include the following:

  • providing wheelchair-accessible toilets, ramps and automatic opening doors
  • allocating classrooms on ground floors
  • providing a designated car-parking space
  • widening doorways and re-arranging furniture to allow wheelchair-users to move around
  • providing ergonomically designed chairs or adapted keyboards
  • acquiring specialist equipment with magnifying facilities.

Changes to working arrangements may be made by:

  • employing an assistant to undertake administrative tasks
  • providing a reader or signer for a visually impaired person
  • adjusting the timetable or allowing extra non-contact time
  • allocating some duties to another employee
  • altering working hours to allow part-time work or job-sharing
  • providing additional training.

While the potential cost of adjustments often concern educational establishments, many are relatively inexpensive. Moreover, under the Access to Work Scheme, funding is available for human support and adaptations to premises and equipment. Disability employment advisors in Jobcentres offer free independent advice on adjustments to the workplace. Many LAs also employ disability officers. More information can be found in the 2010 Equality Act: Advice for schools guidance.

Other forms of discrimination under the Equality Act

Failure to make reasonable adjustments is one of the five ways in which an employer can discriminate on the grounds of disability. The others are:

Direct discrimination: this occurs where a person discriminates against a disabled person if, on the ground of that person's disability, he or she is treated less favourably than a person not having that particular disability has been or would have been treated. There is no justification defence to a claim for direct discrimination.

Disability-related discrimination: this occurs where the employer, for reasons relating to a person's disability, treats that employee less favourably than the employer treats or would treat others to whom that reason does not apply, and that treatment is not justified.

Harassment: occurs where the disabled person is subjected to unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of violating his or her dignity or creating an intimidating, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him or her.

Victimisation: essentially occurs where the disabled person is treated less favourably because he or she has commenced a claim under the Equality Act; or has given evidence/information in proceedings brought by someone else; or has alleged that a person has contravened the act.

A claim for disability discrimination must be presented to the Employment Tribunal within three months beginning with the date of the act of which complaint is made.

Discrimination law is a particularly complex area. ATL members are advised to contact ATL (see below) if they require advice.

See also