Tackling disability discrimination at work
Last updated: April 12, 2023
While awareness surrounding the concept of equality and diversity is increasing across the UK, discrimination still occurs at a substantial rate – especially against disabled people.
From stereotyping, unconscious bias, microaggressions, and exclusion from employment opportunities, the issues that many disabled workers face is often dismissed or brushed to the side – this is known as disability discrimination.
Disablism is the bias, prejudice and discrimination of anyone living with a disability (mental or physical).
Ableism is the discrimination of disabled people in favour of non-disabled people.
People who experience disability discrimination are protected under the Equality Act 2010, which replaced the Disability Discrimination Acts 1995 and 2005. You are protected under this law if:
Under the Equality Act 2010, a disability is listed as a physical or mental condition which has a substantial and long-term impact on your ability to do normal day to day activities. This can range from anything that affects your vision, movement, cognitive function, learning, communicating, hearing, or mental health.
You are also protected under the Equality Act 2010 for any progressive conditions you have such as cancer, or HIV, even if you can carry out normal day to day activities, as well as for any disabilities you have had previously.
It is vital to understand the different types of disability discrimination so that you know what your rights are under the Equality Act 2010. They are as follows:
Your employer has a responsibility to protect employees, workers, contractors, the self-employed and job applicants with disabilities from discrimination and they must take steps to prevent it from happening.
Your employer is also responsible for the wellbeing of their disabled employees. If an employer is unsupportive of an employee who experiences discrimination at work, they could be in breach of their employment contract, and could even face charges for constructive dismissal.
Employers also have a duty of care to ensure that disabled workers aren’t disadvantaged at work, including making reasonable adjustments to remove, prevent or reduce any barriers that may affect them. Failure to provide such adjustments may constitute as discrimination, and that employer could be taken to an employment tribunal.
Employers should take any complaints of disability discrimination and any following investigations seriously.
If you experience discrimination at work, this can be from anyone you encounter because of your job, including:
It is your employer’s responsibility to take steps to prevent disability discrimination from happening or act when it does.
Disability discrimination can occur in person or online via email, social media, or messaging apps. This can occur as a one-off incident, or regularly. This can take on many forms, ranging from obvious disability discrimination to less obvious interactions. The following can constitute:
Even if the perpetrator of the discrimination considers their behaviour to be a joke, it is still classified as disability discrimination if their behaviour is:
Discrimination typically directed at an individual or group of individuals, but some workplaces can normalise a culture of disability discrimination e.g., discriminatory inappropriate “banter” between colleagues. You can still make a complaint of discrimination in this situation.
If you are the target of disability discrimination at work, we recommend you do the following:
We would first advise that you speak with your trade union rep to receive support when making a formal complaint about being the victim of discrimination at work.
Your employer may have their own discrimination policy to deal with any disability discrimination in the workplace, so you should follow that procedure to raise a grievance.
This should be in the same place your workplace houses all your workplace policy on discrimination.
This should be somewhere easily accessible such as a staff handbook or company intranet.
It should outline how your employer deals with discrimination complaints and who to send your complaint to.
If you have raised a formal grievance or the problem has not been resolved, you can make a claim to an employment tribunal. You should inform Community immediately if you intend to do this as our legal team may be able to provide advice and support you through this process.
If you witness disability discrimination at work, we will always recommend that if you feel safe to do so, speak out against it. No one should feel afraid to confront disablism, ableism, or any other forms of discrimination in the workplace and by speaking out, you may also encourage other employees, and your employer to contribute to a more inclusive work environment.
Following an incident of ableism or disablism, you can:
If you need help or advice, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0800 389 6332.