DISABILITY IN THE WORKPLACE
Under the Equalities Act 2010 the definition of a disability in relation to employment law is defined as:
“a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities”.
This is a very broad definition in itself especially if you think about everyday activities such as, washing clothes or pegging them on the line, shopping, washing and bathing, getting out of bed walking about and in one recent case, being able to put your shoes on. This definition does not just mean the ability to carry out a role at work but includes assessing all aspects of life for the person who is disabled. It can be just one thing that impacts on the life of the person or a complex combination of several issues that impact the person concerned.
In terms of mental impairments, things like a person’s concentration their ability to understand instructions, or to communicate with others because of confidence issues, being able to go out in crowds etc, being distracted by voices in the head etc, can also form an inability to carry out a normal daily life.
Some conditions are covered under the Disability Discrimination part of the Act automatically. A diagnosis of Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Incontinence, and Facial Disfigurement, and being registered blind are some of these conditions.
It is a myth that people need to be registered disabled in order to qualify for coverage and protection under this Act. The only people who are now required to be registered are those who are visually impaired.
A person may recover from a disability such as depression or may be in remission from Cancer. Their condition could be what is known as an intermittent condition, where there are periods of wellness but where the person still needs treatment as an ongoing approach.
It is a massively complex area, which understandably can fill an employer with dread and fear, especially when you consider that there are no caps or limits on awards that Employment Tribunals can issue to an employee should the employer be found to have discriminated against them. It can be further complicated by the discrimination being either direct or indirect and even unintentional.
An employee does not have to leave their job to make a claim for discrimination and can bring a claim against their current employer whilst still working for them. Very often such a situation can be very damaging and have a detrimental impact on the morale of the employee and their colleagues.
In todays’ society according to the official statistics produced by the Department for Work and Pensions disability in the workplace stands as affecting 16% of working age adults. However, if you look at the definition and the way it can be applied the figure could actually be much higher as this figure only signifies those claiming disability working tax credits .
This does not mean that employing someone who is disabled is a “No No!.” In fact some of the best employees are sometimes those that face challenges in their life as a result of their disability, it just means that the requirement to manage absence and the working environment in some cases, needs to be well thought out and sometimes more creatively managed.
For example, consideration should be given to the location of where an individual’s work area is, on the ground floor maybe if access is an issue, or near a toilet if they have incontinence, or getting the appropriate software for someone who is blind. Such initiatives can mean that the disabled person can continue to give great service to the business and continue to work successfully.
Sometimes finance is available through the “Access to Work” scheme, details of which are usually available at your local Job Centre. The Job Centre usually has Access to Work officers who can come and visit you and the employee in the workplace and see what support they can give to you both. This can be financial support and practical help and guidance.
Good HR Advice is essential in these cases when considering the legal obligations especially in consideration of reasonable adjustments and alternative work, the advice of Occupational health can be invaluable.
If you are managing sickness or capability issues then seeking advice to make sure that you are not falling foul of your legal obligations is something that is highly advised and which our experienced Advice team can assist you with.
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