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The Disability Discrimination Act was first introduced in 1995. As it implies this Act was introduced to protect disabled people from discrimination when applying for posts, during employment and from unfair dismissal.

Employers now also have to make provision for disabled members of the public to gain access. The Disability Rights Commission has suggested that "reasonable changes for access could include providing a low fitted bell at the entrance of your salon so that wheel chair users can ring for assistance. More flexibility in your waiting area so that chairs can be moved to accommodate people who need more space." It suggests that improving your access for disabled customers will also benefit your other clients, such as parents with pushchairs, and the elderly. More information is available from the DRC website at www.drc.org.uk

The Law

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 is supported by a Code of Practice. Since earlier this year employers have been required to make reasonable adjustments to enable disabled people to use their services. Since 1st October 2004 employers with fewer than 15 staff are no longer be exempt from the Act.

Helpful hints

Many employers think of a disabled person as being highly visible eg wheel chair bound, having a physical or visual handicap. However, the Disability Discrimination Act defines a disabled person much more widely.

The definition is :

"He or she has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long term adverse effect on his/her ability to out normal day to day activities."

Employment Tribunals are continually adding a range of medical complaints to the list of complaints which can constitute a disability. It now includes ME, depression, schizophrenia, and back injury. The guidance is that the disability has lasted 12 months, is likely to last 12 months.

When an employee becomes newly disabled (remember the definition of a disability is very wide) the employer is expected to make "reasonable adjustments". What is a reasonable adjustment? It can include:

  • Adjustments to premises
  • Changing or reducing hours
  • Retraining
  • Adjusting/modifying equipment

In recent Employment Tribunal cases the following have been seen as adjustments an employer should have completed:

  • Purchase of a special chair costing £1000
  • Discounting absences resulting from the disability when assessing the absence record

Employers who got it Wrong

Most Employment Tribunal Cases have related to Employers who have adopted a blinkered approach and seen the disability rather than the person. Recently an applicant for the post of therapist at a salon declared that she had mild epilepsy. She was not short listed. The salon owner decided that she was not suitable without any consideration of the extent of the illness or how the applicant could be accommodated.

A nurse, who retired on health grounds after an assault, stated that the words "epilepsy" scared off employers. She retrained as a therapist and now runs a successful salon in the North East.

An employee with rheumatism had their request to start work later in the morning ( so that they could oil their joints! ) unreasonably refused.

A recent House of Lords decision should bring home the reality of the Disability Discrimination Act. Mrs A was a road sweeper who following an operation had limited ability to walk. She sought transfer to an office based job, but, as it was a slightly higher grade, she had to compete for posts and was unsuccessful. Following her dismissal she took the Council to Tribunal. The case went to the House of Lords which concluded very surprisingly.

  • In some circumstances employers are obliged to treat a disabled person MORE FAVOURABLY than others when considering adjustments.
  • A reasonable adjustment might include a transfer even when the applicant was not the best person for the job. This was especially the case where the job was one which many people could do.

My Advice

Its simple really, take the blinkers off and see the skills not the disability.

Check your recruitment and selection processes are free of potential discrimination.

If staff become disabled seriously look at how their roles or environment can be changed.

The number of Employment Tribunal Cases under the Disability Discrimination Act are increasing, and the Law is being well publicised. Remember there is no ceiling on payments.

David Wright Personnel

Phone - 01302 563 691

Mobile - 07930 358 067