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What to do if you are being discriminated for disability at work

July 30, 2021

 

Neha Thethi, employment law expert at leading law firm Lime Solicitors explains what work-place discrimination is and what to do if you’ve experienced it.

It might sound strange, coming from a lawyer, but my key advice would always be to try and resolve any problems with your employer informally in the first instance.  Wherever possible, employment tribunals should be a last resort; they can be highly stressful and often avoided through informal and/or formal grievance procedures.

What is discrimination at work?

The Equality Act 2010 protects you from discrimination. It is unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees because of one of the nine protected characteristics, which include : age, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, and disability. All workers (irrespective of their employment status) and job applicants are protected against discrimination during the course of their employment.

There are different types of discrimination such as direct (including by association and by perception); indirect; harassment and victimisation. If you are a disabled person, your employer must not treat you unfavourably because of something connected to your disability where they cannot demonstrate what they are doing is objectively justified. This is called discrimination arising from disability. However, this will only apply if your employer knows or could reasonably have been expected to know that you are a disabled person.

Even though you are not obliged to tell your employer that you are disabled, it is highly advisable that you do, otherwise an employer may have a defence against a claim of discrimination if they were genuinely unaware of your disability. For example, your employer cannot make reasonable adjustments if they do not have constructive knowledge of your disability. If you want your employer to make reasonable adjustments at work then you must inform them of your disability in order to ensure that they know they have a legal duty to put the adjustments in place. Where possible, ask your employer for a referral to occupational health in order to support you at work.

What are reasonable adjustments?

The Equality Act says there’s a duty to make reasonable adjustments if you’re placed at a substantial disadvantage because of your disability compared with non-disabled people or people who don’t share your disability. There are lots of reasonable adjustments that employers can make, but adjustments only have to be made if it’s reasonable to do so. What’s a reasonable thing depends on your disability; how practicable the changes are; the size of the organisation, how much money and resources are available and the cost of making the changes. Examples of reasonable adjustments include providing flexible working hours; modifying work performance targets; providing special equipment or extra assistance to help you in work; providing ramps for wheelchair access; providing designated car parking spaces etc.

In addition to this, employers can help prevent discrimination in the workplace in other ways, including: having an up-to-date equality policy; providing regular anti-discrimination training to staff; making it clear how staff can complain if discrimination happens; regular one to one catch ups between employees and their line managers to help build positive working relationships.

What do I do if I’m being discriminated at work?

No one should ever be discriminated against at work. It is your employer’s responsibility to manage the behaviour of their staff. If a manager, peer or colleague is treating your unfairly, you should try to sort the problem informally first, with the person directly, or if you are not comfortable with this then through your manager, HR department or trade union representative.

What do I do if my employer won’t make adjustments or I’m still being discriminated?

When you are still working with an employer it is good practice to try and resolve any problems with your employer informally in the first instance. You could arrange a meeting with your employer, inform them of the problems you are experiencing and ask them to take appropriate action to resolve these problems, for example, by making a reasonable adjustment as recommended by occupational health. It is often the case that an informal discussion is all that is needed to get matters resolved.

If, however, this does not help your situation then you should raise a formal complaint through your company’s grievance procedure. Raising a grievance usually involves writing a letter with details of the discrimination. Your employer’s policy should explain what you need to do. It will also tell you how long each stage of the procedure should take. If you are unfairly treated for raising a grievance, this is also discrimination.

If raising a grievance does not help, then you may want to negotiate an exit package, or settlement compensation for the discrimination you have received.

If matters still remain unresolved, then you may wish to speak to a solicitor about taking legal action and making a claim for disability discrimination.  

Communication

Communication is key. Your employer can not help you if you do not explain your situation.

Being discriminated against, for any reason, can be highly stressful and unsettling. However, it is important to keep notes of any conversations and copies of any emails so you can show that you tried to follow your employers procedures and find a solution.  – if you find that you cannot settle the issue through informal/formal procedures or mediation, then it’s crucial you have a trusted legal advisor fighting your corner, to get the adjustments, apology, recognition and compensation you deserve..

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