Skip to content Skip to footer

Discrimination because of something connected to your disability at work

This advice applies to Wales

If you’ve been treated unfairly at work and it’s because of something connected to your disability, you may have been discriminated against. The Equality Act 2010 calls this discrimination arising from disability.

Read this page to find out more about discrimination arising from disability at work.

What’s meant by discrimination arising from disability?

Discrimination arising from disability is when you’re treated unfairly because of something connected to your disability rather than the disability itself.

Here are examples of things connected to a disability:

  • the need for regular toilet breaks
  • the need to take time-off work
  • long-term sickness absence
  • restricted diet
  • need for an assistance dog
  • behavioural issues
  • speech or movement difficulties
  • difficulties reading and writing or understanding certain things
  • the need for specialist computer equipment
  • the need for a quiet working environment
  • the need to use a wheelchair or other special equipment.

Can the employer justify discriminating against you?

If you make a complaint about discrimination arising from disability, your employer may be able to justify discriminating against you. To justify discrimination, they would have to show they have a good business reason for discriminating against you. The Equality Act calls this a legitimate aim. The employer can't just say they have a good business reason for discriminating against you, they must be able to show it.

Examples of reasons that employers often use are:

  • ensuring the health and safety of its employees
  • running a profitable business
  • business efficiency and reducing costs.

Something may not be a good enough business reason if the employer could have done things in a less discriminatory way. This means the employer must show they thought about the discriminatory effects of the decision or action they took and that it was necessary to act in that way. The Equality Act says the employer must show the decision is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

If the employer could have made reasonable adjustments to avoid or minimise the disadvantage in the first place, it will be very difficult to justify the discrimination.

Example

You’re visually impaired and have been dismissed from your job because you work slower than your colleagues. The reason you work slower is because of your disability. This is therefore likely to be discrimination because of something connected to your disability.

Your employer could try to justify the discrimination by saying that they need to run a profitable business. However, if they didn’t make any reasonable adjustments which could have helped you stay in your job, it’s unlikely they will be able to justify it here.

What if your employer doesn’t know about your disability?

It's not unlawful discrimination if the employer:

  • didn't know about your disability, or
  • couldn't reasonably have been expected to know about your disability.

This means that even if you haven’t told your employer about your disability, they may still have to take certain steps to find out if you’re disabled.

What must employers do to find out about your disability?

Employers must do all they can reasonably be expected to do to find out if you’re disabled. What’s reasonable depends on all the circumstances of your case. Employers will normally be expected to make enquiries where they see you have problems or are showing behaviour which may be linked to a disability - for example, absences from work or problems dealing with work tasks.

In particular, the courts have said that employers can’t simply rely on occupational health reports or reports from other medical advisers to decide if you’re disabled or not. An employer must make their own judgment based on the facts as to whether an employee is disabled or not. Where medical reports describe health problems that may be a disability, employers should recognise that advice when deciding about a disability issue or what further enquiries they need to make.

Example

You suffer from depression and anxiety and you find it difficult to interact with your work colleagues.You’ve recently been dismissed from your job with a large multinational organisation because of conduct issues.

Concerns about your behaviour were first raised at your interview and induction training, but your employer never took any steps to investigate the causes of your behaviour.

Although you didn’t tell your employer about your disability, this may still be unlawful disability discrimination. This is because your employer should have taken steps to find out if your behaviour was due to a disability. As they didn’t do this they can’t say they didn’t know about your disability.

Next steps

Other useful information

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website.

Acas

Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) provides free and impartial information and advice on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law.

To talk to an adviser about your employment problem, call the Acas helpline on 0300 123 1100.

Did this advice help?