Disability discrimination

Site updated on February 17, 2020

The law in this area is called the Equality Act. The main provisions of this Act are:

(a) The Act outlaws discrimination against people with disabilities. (Organisations employing less than 15 people were excluded from this Act – but this exclusion limit was removed in October 2004. So all businesses, irrespective of size, are now covered – and so are Fire fighters and Police Officers who also used to be excluded.)

(b) The definition of a disability is:

‘a person who has, or has had, any physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on that person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’.

It is no longer necessary to “Register” as a disabled person to benefit from protection. The definition above is what determines whether you are protected. You must have an impairment to be able to make a claim for disability discrimination. Note that you do not have to register as disabled to be protected by this legislation.

In December 2005 the definitions of a disabilty were amended slightly. If you are diagnosed as suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, most forms of Cancer, or HIV you are covered against discrimination from the point of diagnosis – you do not have to wait for 12 months or for your condition to significantly affect your daily activities.

Also from the same date, you do not have to have a clinically recognised mental illness, so those who have a “learning difficulty”, with no specific cause identified, may be able to claim protection.

Do contact our Advice Line for help or advice.

(c) Your Employer is legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments to their recruitment processes, to the work itself or indeed the workplace in order to ensure that any disabilities are accommodated where possible.

Your Employer does not have to create a job for you, but is obliged to look at things like:

  • amending your duties
  • altering your working hours
  • adapting the workplace
  • acquiring equipment
  • allowing a phased return from absence

This applies if you develop a disability too, and your performance and attendance at work are affected. You should not be dismissed for poor performance or poor attendance unless your Employer has made every effort to consider reasonable adjustments.

(d) Physical impairment is not defined in the legislation. There are no medical definitions as to what constitutes a disability, although normally you must be suffering from an impairment which substantially affects your everyday living in order to make a claim to tribunal. A tribunal will review the medical evidence in each case in order to establish whether the applicant is disabled as defined by the legislation. Tribunals will ask a series of questions based on the definition of disability. These are:

(i) Is it a substantial impairment?

(ii) Is it long term? – the guidelines say that this should have lasted 12 months or will be likely to last 12 months. Has the illness lasted for 12 months in the past? If you are refused employment because of a previous mental health problem this could still be classed as discrimination.

(iii) What are the effects on this person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities?

(e) As with other forms of discrimination, the legislation applies not only to employees, but to prospective employees, contract staff , agency and self-employed workers in certain situations.

(f) The legislation makes it unlawful to discriminate in relation to recruitment, promotion, training, transfer, benefits, facilities, services, dismissal or by subjecting an individual to any other detriment.

If you think you have suffered Disability discrimination or would like further advice Contact our Advice Line or a solicitor.

The legislation encourages employers to focus on the abilities of the person, not the disability.


Access to Work Scheme

An Access to Work grant can pay for practical support if you have a disability, health or mental health condition to help you:

  • start working
  • stay in work
  • move into self-employment or start a business

The grant is not for business start-up costs.

How much you get depends on your circumstances.

The money doesn’t have to be paid back and will not affect your other benefits.

There is no set amount for an Access to Work grant. How much you get depends on your circumstances.

The money can pay for things like:

  • adaptations to the equipment you use
  • special equipment
  • fares to work if you can’t use public transport
  • a support worker or job coach to help you in your workplace
  • a support service if you have a mental health condition and you’re absent from work or finding it difficult to work
  • disability awareness training for your colleagues
  • a communicator at a job interview
  • the cost of moving your equipment if you change location or job

Access to Work
For more information, see :


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