Disability Rights in the Workplace & Elsewhere

The 21st century sees disabled people having greater rights and protections, and protection against discrimination or similar treatment, than ever before. Although the disability discrimination of old is still regrettably present at times- it is a lot better.

Even the UN has recognised that there is an issue concerning the rights of the disabled. Consequently, there is a UN Convention on Disability Rights that seeks to promote the rights of the disabled. The UK has ratified that Convention, and as such has enshrined disability rights in domestic law. Disability rights is not so much a UK issue- but rather a global issue, according to the UN.

That domestic law has moved to catch up with changing times and attitudes- resulting in much greater protections and rights for the disabled. These have mainly been seen in the workplace.

It was the Equality Act (2010) (EA) which set out certain rights that the disabled had. According to the EA, a person is disabled (sic) protected if they have

a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities

The EA goes on to define that further:

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

The EA has special rules and provisions for fluctuating or recurring conditions (such as arthritis), and for progressive conditions. Defined as a medical condition that gets worse over time, in many cases people with progressive conditions can be classed as disabled. However, the definition of being disabled automatically applies from the day a person is diagnosed as suffering from cancer, multiple sclerosis, or as HIV positive.

The EA, though, is careful to also set out what is not classed as a disability.


Disability Rights: A Great Leap Forward

 Further to that, under the Equality Act, you are guaranteed legal rights regarding



Access to goods, services and facilities

Buying or renting land or property

The Act goes further, finding that those with as ‘association’ with a disabled person (such as a carer) have comparable rights.

Under the relevant legislation, it is absolutely against the law for an employer to discriminate against a disabled person. This applies when hiring a suitable candidate: prospective employers are forbidden from allowing your disability to be a factor in any decision to hire you. When hiring, an employer  is allowed to investigate and question your disability- but within certain strict parameters. The limited enquires are allowed in order to

help decide if you can carry out a task that is an essential part of the work

help find out if you can take part in an interview

help decide if the interviewers need to make reasonable adjustments for you in a selection process

help monitoring

help decided if they want to increase the number of disabled people they employ

help if they need to know for the purposes of national security checks

The law requires that employers make any “reasonable adjustments” if necessary- both in the recruiting process, and whilst at work. This is so that the disabled are not put at any disadvantage when compared to their able bodied colleagues. That “reasonable adjustment” could mean anything from providing special equipment, to improving access, or adjusting working hours; anything that is within reason to avoid disadvantaging a disabled employee.

Similarly, any termination or redundancy that takes your disability into consideration is illegal, and can be challenged before an Employment Tribunal.


Disability Access: The Next Step

Both in the workplace, and elsewhere, access for the disabled has also improved. By law, most places need to make “reasonable adjustments” to ensure that their premises is accessible to the disabled. However, that sense of what is reasonable will very from establishment to establishment, and industry to industry. It is a requirement, and mandated, however, that some adjustment is made to accommodate the disabled.

In this regard, there is still work to be done. Many places are still not as accessible to the disabled as could be desired, and operate with little adjustments made for the disabled. The 1990’s and 2000’s saw great steps made regarding disability rights and discrimination. In the workplace, and elsewhere, there is now much less discrimination. However, making places more accessible to the disabled has not been as successful.

Quite clearly, that issue of accessibility will be the next challenge for disability rights advocates and campaigners. The foundations have already been laid by previous legislation and advances; but now is the time to drive that issue of accessibility forward.