4. Relevant legislation
Health and safety is sometimes used as an excuse to justify discrimination against disabled workers. This should not happen.
While there are no health and safety regulations specific only to disabled people, the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 requires every employer to protect all workers from the risk of injury or harm at work, so far as is reasonably practicable. This includes disabled workers and also covers risk to people who may be affected by the work (for example visitors).
‘So far as is reasonably practicable’ means balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control it, in terms of money, time taken or trouble.
Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act provides a modern, single legal framework with clear, streamlined legal requirements to tackle disadvantage and discrimination.
Treating a disabled person unfavourably because of something connected with their disability is an act of discrimination. Whether the worker has confirmed they are disabled or the employer could reasonably be expected to know (for example the worker uses walking aids or a wheelchair), it would be discriminatory and so unlawful to treat them less favourably because of their disability. Further general guidance can be found on GOV.UK in Employers: Preventing discrimination.
Definition of a disability
Under the Equality Act, a disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on someone’s ability to do normal daily activities. For clarification:
- ‘substantial’ means more than minor or trivial (for example it takes much longer than it usually would to complete a daily task like getting dressed)
- ‘long-term’ means 12 months or more (for example a breathing condition developed as a result of a lung infection)
Reasonable adjustments under equality law
Equality law recognises that bringing about equality for disabled people may mean changing the way employment is structured, with the removal of physical barriers to working and/or providing extra support so disabled workers are not disadvantaged.
This is the duty for employers to make reasonable adjustments. The aim of the duty is to make sure that, as far as is reasonable, disabled workers have the same access to everything involved in doing and keeping a job as non-disabled workers.
There is guidance from GOV.UK on Employing disabled people and people with health conditions and Access to work.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has produced workplace adjustments guidance and ACAS provides information on disability discrimination.