How Disability Legislation Affects Employers

Disability Legislation

Shaun Williams, director of corporate affairs for Leonard Cheshire Disability, recently said that employers commonly don’t know how to handle the employment of disabled people and shy away from doing so as a result, not necessarily out of prejudice, but out of a lack of relevant knowledge. It has also been supposed that some employers have false perceptions of what it means to hire someone with a disability (especially in terms of finance). So what does it mean to hire someone with a disability? What kind of knowledge should employers have? What should they be aware of?

In 1995, Parliament passed the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). This disability legislation made it unlawful to discriminate against people with regard to their disabilities in the context of employment, the provision of goods and services, education and transport. The third section of this act made it compulsory for companies that provide goods and/or services to include in those provisions aid for people with disabilities. For example, accessibility options for mobile phones. This also means that companies are required to provide information that can be understood by everyone. This could range from braille for the visually impaired to audio for the hearing impaired. This also means that any important changes in information will have to be conveyed through these channels.

There was a shift in paradigm towards the end of 2007. In the December of that year, the Disability Equality Duty (DED) became law. This disability legislation changed the way that employers were to think about their products and/or services; instead of taking disability into account upon completion, this was done at inception. This improvement on the 1995 Act meant that companies were becoming more responsible.

This paved the way for the Equality Act 2010 (EA). With this Act (which is current), all individuals and groups – including those with disabilities – are protected from discrimination. For example, it would be unlawful to request someone with a disability to vacate some premises based on how they are perceived by others. Likewise, it would be unlawful for a company to use a customer service system that was based purely on phone calls; this would make it difficult or impossible for the hearing impaired to exchange information with the company.

This is highly relevant to employers; practices and policies need to be carefully considered. Aiming for the bare minimum in terms of compliance carries high risk, bearing in mind the legal ramifications. For an employer, being proactive is vital when abiding by the disability legislation. While this might come with added baggage, it is nonetheless the law. However, it is still acceptable for employers to have reasonable medical criteria for employment, and to expect adequate performance from employees once any reasonable adjustments have been made. So, if someone with a visual impairment is hired at a company, and provisions are made for them to undoubtedly be aware of all regulations and responsibilities, and said employee gives enough reason for dismissal, this is not discriminatory, as it could have happened to any individual, disabled or not.

by Harry Lawrence | 13 May 2013


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