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Disability in The Workplace

As part of our training process trainee and junior consultants spend time with clients to gain an understanding of the different roles in various organisations. We work with a number of different types of clients from schools to builders’ merchants, charities to dentists. This allows the team to gain experience of our clients’ operations across the various sectors. Having a more detailed knowledge is invaluable and makes all the difference in the quality of advice we give when speaking to our clients.

One of my junior consultants recently visited a charity we work with, Dogs for the Disabled, to do some work shadowing. This took place over two days. Day one was spent with the operations side of the charity; looking at fundraising, PR, finance etc. Day two was spent with the technical teams who work with the dogs. This includes dog trainers and instructors, the kennel team and client services.

On day two DfD had some clients on site who had been matched with a dog and were undergoing as part of the first week training to build the working partnership. The clients spoke about what having a dog would mean to their life and how things would change. Hearing about this first hand is really touching. One client spoke about how the dog would also help her working life which got us thinking about disabilities in the workplace and reasonable adjustments.

It is against the law to discriminate against someone because of a disability. This doesn’t have to be a current employee; the law covers prospective employees too. If you don’t give proper thought to your recruitment process, you could be the subject of a claim brought against you by someone you have never even met. The Equality Act 2010 defines a disability as ‘a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long term effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’. Some conditions are a disability from the date of diagnosis. These are HIV, cancer and multiple sclerosis. Recent case law means that obesity can also be a disability. There are a number of exceptions. Conditions such as alcoholism are treated as illness, but are specifically excluded from being categorised as a disability.

You are under a duty of care to make reasonable adjustments in the work place for those with a disability. Such reasonable adjustments should allow the playing field to be level with those who do not have a disability in terms of the job he is employed to do. Reasonable adjustments can include the following.

  • Adapting the workplace e.g. wheelchair access / facilities.
  • Providing a certain piece of equipment e.g. specialist keyboard for someone with arthritis.
  • Adjusting working hours e.g. flexible working / part time.
  • Allowing a support dog into the workplace.
  • Providing extra training or support.
  • Alternative communication e.g. Braille documents.

The tribunals take a very broad approach to what constitutes a reasonable adjustment. For example, last year an argument that a disabled employee should have a permanent car parking space reserved for her found favour with the tribunal. Not all employers will be able to accommodate all adjustments and what is reasonable will depend on a number of factors. For example our office is a grade II listed building and we have not been allowed to change the stairs and there is no room for a lift. However, I did insist on wheelchair access into the building, so our reception and main office are properly accessible (believe it or not I had to argue the point with the Conservation Officer but as the doors in question weren’t original I could see no valid argument for refusing to make them wider) and we do have a disabled toilet. Before any adjustment is made it must be deemed to be effective, affordable and practicable.

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