Disability Discrimination within the Equality Act 2010

Last reviewed on 16/02/2015 09:39

This page gives a brief overview of the requirements of the Equality Act 2010, details of good practice in relation to it, and links to further information.

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What is meant by 'disability'?

The Equality Act defines a 'disabled person' as an individual with a 'physical (including sensory) impairment or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his/her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities'.

  • Substantial means more than minor or trivial (e.g. time taken to carry out an activity or the way in which the activity is carried out, cumulative effects of the impairment(s)
  • Long-term means that the effect of the impairment has lasted or is likely to last for at least 12 months (fluctuating conditions will be covered, e.g. Rheumatoid Arthritis is a progressive condition). Some conditions are covered from the point of diagnosis e.g. HIV infection, cancer, multiple sclerosis.
  • Normal day-to-day activities include everyday things like eating, washing, walking, going shopping, and using public transport.

Since 1 October 2007, three commissions have come together to form The Equality and Human Rights Commission (external site).  

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Legal duties and obligations under the Equality Act

Under the Equality Act, it is unlawful to treat people less favourably because of something connected with their disability.

Under the legislation the employer has to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ if a disabled job applicant or employee is at a disadvantage in relation to others. The duty applies to both the physical features of the employer’s premises, e.g. fittings and equipment, and to all other aspects of employment including recruitment, training and retention.

If a disabled person has grounds to believe they have been discriminated against by their employer (also covered at the recruitment stage), they can take the organisation to an Employment Tribunal.

Disability discrimination also applies to the provision of goods and services, access to facilities, education and the buying or renting of property or land, all of which must be supplied in ways that so not discriminate against people with disabilities.

Read more on disabilities and non-discriminatory recruitment practices.

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Pre-employment health screening and the use of pre-employment health questionnaires

Section 60 of the Act states: 'Health Questionnaires should be designed to ensure that they only elicit information that is both relevant and necessary, this implies that they should be designed by health professionals. It also implies that they should be interpreted by those who are qualified to draw meaningful conclusions from the information supplied'.

Section 60 also states that employers are not allowed to ask about the health of the applicant before a job offer, unconditional or conditional, has been made. It will allow questions (at any time):

  • to establish if the employer needs to make reasonable adjustments for interview or competency assessment
  • diversity monitoring
  • if the job is only open to disabled applicants
  • for the purpose of establishing whether the job applicant will be able to carry out a function that is intrinsic to the work concerned. This relates to functional capacity, e.g. physical fitness, eyesight, hearing, not to questions about health (e.g. the army, fire, police before the interview stage).  

Questionnaires should be designed for the specific job role. So if an organisation employs multiple job roles, then questionnaires should be relevant to the job function. Only jobs where there are clear, explicit health criteria should result in pre-employment screening.  

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Good practices in employing people with disabilities

An employer might consider some of the following options in employing people with disabilities:

  • job redesign
  • adjustments within the workplace
  • more flexible working patterns
  • career breaks
  • home working.

More information on non-discriminatory recruitment practices for people with disabilities can be found in our Employability section under Discrimination - Legal Obligations on Employers.

For practical information on employment, disability and the access to work programme please contact the Disability Adviser at your local Job Centre Plus Office (external site).
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Further information on disability and employment