Workplace Taboos: Discomfort With Discussing Disabilities

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Workplace Taboos: Discomfort With Discussing Disabilities

Key Contact: Claire Knowles

Author: Saskia Musacchio

In a recent survey conducted by Samsung UK, it was found that a large proportion of the nation are not comfortable discussing the topic of disability within the workplace. The results reveal that 43% of people suffering with a disability deliberately avoid disclosing their disability due to fears that it will negatively affect their prospects of promotion or progression within their professional path. 65% of those surveyed wish to remove the discomfort felt by their co-workers, and 38% have admitted to requiring further education on the topic.

The law on disability

The Equality Act 2010 (EA 2010) provides that ‘disability’ is a protected characteristic. Section 6 of the EA 2010 defines ‘disability’ as a physical or mental impairment that “has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”. “Long term” is defined as the following:

  • it has lasted for at least 12 months;
  • it is likely to last for at least 12 months; or
  • it is likely to last for the rest of the life of the person affected.

Therefore, an individual must satisfy the above requirements before they can be deemed, in law, as having a disability. Once this has been established, there is a range of claims that the individual could potentially bring if they believe they have been discriminated against by virtue of their disability.

Duty to provide reasonable adjustments

Interestingly, 70% of the persons surveyed with a disability believe that their employers should provide greater support by supplying effective equipment to help reduce the effects of their disabilities. Indeed, all employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for their disabled employees. This requirement also expands to their disabled job applicants. Most relevantly, the duty can arise where a disabled person would, but for the employer’s provision of an auxiliary aid, be put at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with those who are not disabled. Here, the employer must take such steps as are reasonable to provide the auxiliary aid, i.e. a piece of equipment, which would overcome / reduce the adverse effect(s) attributed to the disability. Considering this strict legal obligation on the employer, it is concerning that so many of those surveyed felt unsupported and that their employer was not meeting their duty to make the necessary adjustments.

Moving forwards

To ensure that employers meet their statutory obligations, best practice is to undergo appropriate and thorough education and training on the law of disability. Given people’s discomfort in discussing these issues, fostering an environment where people feel able to speak about these issues will prove paramount. Employers must also remember that the EA 2010 specifically allows for positive discrimination in favour of the disabled person in order to aid in overcoming the adverse effects of the disability.

If you have any queries or would like any assistance, please feel free to contact a member of the Acuity Employment team.

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