Below, our expert employment law solicitors answer employees questions on the law relating to disability at work.
Q I work part-time because I look after my elderly disabled father. A few times recently I was late for work because it took longer for me to get him up and dressed. I am now being threatened with disciplinary action. Colleagues who have been late because of childcare issues seem be ignored. Surely this isn’t right.
A It appears that you are being treated less favourably because of your father’s disability. This is Direct Discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. You don’t have to be disabled yourself to benefit from this protection under the Act as the wording outlaws less favourable treatment “because of” disability. That is, it is not the disabled person that has to be suffering the less favourable treatment. See our factsheet: “Am I Considered Disabled under the Equality Act?” for more information.
Q My eyesight has been deteriorating for years and I have recently had the cause diagnosed and registered partially sighted. Does this give me any rights at work?
A It does. As long as your poor vision has been certified by a consultant ophthalmologist. This would mean that you are deemed to be disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act and do not have to satisfy the usual definition of having an impairment that substantially and adversely affects normal daily activities. The Equality Act protects you from various forms of discrimination and requires your employer to make reasonable adjustments to help you overcome any particular disadvantage you suffer at work or provide auxiliary aids to help you do your job.
Q I have suffered badly from long term depression in the past and have recently experienced a recurrence and had time off work. In my previous job my employer got a medical report confirming I was disabled under the Disability Discrimination Act. Doesn’t my current employer have to take account of my disability?
A You are likely to be covered by the Equality Act but if your current employer doesn’t know about your history and has no grounds for knowing that you are you are not protected by all the provisions of the Act. However, if you have been off sick and have been sending in sick notes which state that you are suffering from depression then they “ought” to have known about your disability. But unfavourable treatment because of something arising from your disability would not be unlawful if they could not know you were disabled. The same considerations apply to the duty to make reasonable adjustments.
Q My little sister has Down’s syndrome and I’m sick of hearing my colleagues calling each other “spastic” and other similar jokey terms of abuse. Do I have to put up with this?
A No you don’t. The Equality Act 2010 includes protection from harassment. Harassment occurs when there is unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive environment. You should complain to your supervisor or manager and if necessary raise a formal grievance.
Q I work in a large supermarket putting goods on shelves. As part of my job I have to push heavy trolleys around. I have a bad back and am finding this increasingly difficult. At the end of my shift I can hardly move. What can I do?
A It sounds like you are likely to be disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. You should make your employer aware of your condition. If you are disabled they have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to the normal job requirements. This could mean you only being given responsibility for moving lighter goods or not having to push trolleys at all.
The job requirements could also be indirect discrimination. This occurs where an employer applies a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) to all staff that particularly disadvantages someone with a particular disability. There is a potential defence to this form of discrimination when the PCP is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. You could raise a grievance with your employer in order to ensure that they meet their legal obligations.