What do I need to know about employment rights and the Disability Discrimination Act?

What do I need to know about employment rights and the Disability Discrimination Act?

What is the definition of ‘disability’?

Under the Equality Act, ‘disability’ is defined as a physical or mental impairment, which has a substantially adverse and long-term effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Examples of these activities include:

  • Using a phone or computer
  • Interacting with colleagues
  • Following instructions
  • Driving
  • Carrying everyday objects.

What types of disability discrimination are there?

The Equality Act protects disabled people from discrimination in different areas of life, including employment.

There are six kinds of disability discrimination:

  • Direct discrimination
  • Indirect discrimination
  • Harassment
  • Victimisation
  • Discrimination arising from disability
  • Failure to make ‘reasonable adjustments.’

Direct discrimination

You suffer direct discrimination when you are treated differently and not as well as other people due to your disability. For instance, if an employer does not employ you simply because it does not want disabled staff among its workforce.

There are three main ways in which you can be treated less favourably:

  • Your disability (direct discrimination)
  • A perceived disability (direct discrimination by perception)
  • Your association with someone who is disabled (direct discrimination by association).

Indirect discrimination

Indirect discrimination takes place where an employment rule, practice or procedure is applied to all workers, but puts you – as a disabled person – at a distinct disadvantage.

In certain circumstances, indirect discrimination may be justified if it is critical for the business to function. For instance, your employer may reject an applicant with a chronic back problem where heavy lifting is a crucial part of the job.


Harassment occurs when conduct concerning your disability creates a distressing, humiliating or offensive environment for you.


Victimisation is when you are treated unfairly because you have made or supported a complaint about disability discrimination.

Discrimination arising from disability

When you are treated unfavourably due to something connected with your disability, but not because of the disability itself, this constitutes disability discrimination. This type of discrimination does not require you to compare your treatment with that of someone else.

Failure to make ‘reasonable adjustments’

If your workplace has a practice, policy or procedure that puts you at a disadvantage because of your disability, your employer should seek to make ‘reasonable adjustments,’ such as:

  • Providing you with a special chair or power-assisted equipment
  • Changing some of your duties.

Making a disability discrimination claim

If you believe that you have been discriminated against, you may be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal. However, in the first instance, you should have an informal discussion with your employer to try to sort the problem out.

You can get free support and advice from the Advisory Council and Arbitration Service (ACAS) by calling their helpline on 0300 123 1100 from Monday to Friday, from 8am to 8pm and Saturday from 9am to 1pm.

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