The Rights of Disabled Workers

Putting the record straight

Posted on: 15/07/2015   By: Lee Rance

I recently read an interesting blog on the ROSPA website. The post explained what employers need to do to ensure they fulfil their legal duty of care for any disabled employees. It went on to state that some employers use Health and Safety Law to discriminate against disabled people just to keep costs down but it doesn’t necessarily need to cost anymore to employ disabled people.

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Definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010 is 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. ‘Substantial’ is more than minor or trivial and ‘long-term’ means 12 months or more.

Physical impairments could include anything from a loss of a limb to a dexterity or sensory impairment, such as visual or hearing.  It could also include health conditions with fluctuating effects such as Diabetes, Cancer, Osteoporosis, MS, ME, and Arthritis. Also included would be progressive conditions such as Muscular Dystrophy and Motor Neurone Disease, and respiratory conditions such as Asthma, and Cardiovascular diseases, including Thrombosis, Stroke and Heart Disease.

Mental impairments would include learning disabilities such as Downs Syndrome. It would also include developmental disorders such as Autism, Aspergers, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia. Also covered under mental impairments are mental health issues – this could include anything from severe Depression, Nervous Breakdown, OCD, Eating Disorders, Dementia, Bi-polar Disorder, Schizophrenia, as well as some personality disorders and self-harming behaviour. In the past, a mental health condition had to be clinically recognised in order for it to be regarded as a mental impairment for the purposes of the Act. However, this requirement was removed in 2005.

As you can see the term ‘disabled’ covers a very wide range of conditions. It is not always possible to tell if people have a disability and whether or not it will affect their ability to do their job. Often the employee will need to inform the company of their disability if it is affecting their job. The employer may be required to do a specific risk assessment for the individual and the tasks they are undertaking.

Employers have a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ in the workplace. The aim is to make sure that, as far as is reasonable, a disabled worker has the same access to everything that is involved in doing and keeping a job as a non-disabled person.

Many of the adjustments will not be particularly expensive, and employers are not required to do more than what is reasonable to do. What is reasonable depends, among other factors, on the size and nature of the organisation.

The adjustments can be split into three categories:

  • The first involves changing the way things are done (e.g. changing duties, working hours or allow extra rest breaks)
  • The second involves making changes to overcome barriers created by the physical features of the workplace. (e.g. wheelchair access, signage on glass doors)
  • The third involves providing extra equipment or getting someone to do something to assist the disabled person. (e.g. extra training, special or modified equipment)

The most important thing is to never make assumptions – someone with a disability can be physically very fit and strong, highly intelligent and articulate.

If you need any advice on Health, Safety or Environmental matters give us a call on 01908 632418 or send us anemail.

Until next time.

Lee Rance