Disability issues within the workplace

The following is a guest post from Simon Barnett. Simon Barnett writes for Disability Sanctuary, an online community for disabled people and their carers. He examines a number of issues and looks to add to the wider debate.

Entering the workplace environment can sometimes seem daunting, but an increasing number of employers are becoming more aware of disability issues and are keen to take positive action. There’s undoubtedly been a realisation that a failure to recruit those with disabilities means that businesses can miss out on vital resources.

It’s still fair to say, however, that experiences do vary. Some employers seem unable to grasp what real equality means and there’s often a lack of awareness about their legal obligations. This can undoubtedly cause some difficulties, given that few individuals want to be put in the position of pointing out such obligations at an early stage in the employment process. On the other hand, by being afraid to speak out, there’s the very real risk that you won’t be dealing with a level playing field.

Good employment practices

The onus is certainly on the employer to understand how they are required to act. In many cases, of course, this simply involves a certain amount of common sense. You may find that you spend some time educating your work colleagues at the outset, with the aim of making relationships considerably easier in the long run.

With this in mind, it’s useful to understand exactly what it’s reasonable for you to expect from an employer. Looking at UK law, there’s very clear guidance:

“It is discrimination to treat a disabled person unfavourably because of something connected with their disability (eg a tendency to make spelling mistakes arising from dyslexia). This type of discrimination is unlawful where the employer or other person acting for the employer knows, or could reasonably be expected to know, that the person has a disability.”

The above may seem to many of us to be little more than an expression of common decency. If an employer is unable to behave in line with the above, then it’s likely that there will be significant issues within the workplace for any employee, including those with disabilities.

But the law also goes much further. Employers are instructed to make reasonable adjustments to both jobs and workplace environments, in order to make life easier for those workers with disabilities. This most obviously involves ensuring that a disabled worker is given time off, where such time is required for specific medical treatment, or for appointments relating to assessments.

As might be expected, provision is also made for ensuring that equipment is suitably modified. If you’re working within an office environment, for example, then it’s reasonable to expect that suitable desks and chairs should be provided. In addition, you might also expect to be provided with additional aids, if those are required to ensure that you can do your job efficiently and safely.

Why it’s important to understand your rights

By understanding your rights, you are in a much better position to outline your expectations and to discuss potential problems, before they arise. It’s understandable, however, that there may be a level of concern about disclosing details of a personal nature to a senior member of staff.

I think that there are two elements to consider here: firstly, an employer cannot reasonably be expected to make allowances, without having a full understanding of your disability. If there are areas where you have some limitations, then you’ll need to declare these to your employer.

That may, of course, seem incredibly daunting. Fortunately, the law is on your side here: the second point that I would make in this area is that the employer has a legal obligation to keep any details of your disability confidential, unless you suggest otherwise.

Conclusions

In practical terms, I would suggest that this should mean that you can speak openly about your requirements, safe in the knowledge that you are having a confidential conversation. You may be happy for your employer to discuss some elements of your conversation with other members of staff, but that’s very much your choice.

Many issues can be resolved before they become significant problems. My own experience suggests that the key is to have good two-way communications between the employer and the employee. This limits the room that’s available for misunderstandings and ensures that there’s clarity within the working relationship.

About the Author

Simon Barnett works on the Disability Sanctuary website, providing insights on a range of issues to those with disabilities, carers, friends and relatives. He aims to provide practical advice, helping to ensure that individuals are receiving the assistance that they are entitled too. He’s particularly concerned about the complexities of the current disability benefits system. Having previously worked as the editor of a finance website in the UK, he’s keen to offer clarity in such areas.

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