What Counts as a Disability at Work?

Deana Bates
Employment Law Solicitor

Under employment law in England and Wales, a person is defined as disabled if they have a mental or physical health issue, and which:

  • Makes it difficult for that person to perform their normal daily activities
  • Has more than a minor or trivial effect on how they carry out their normal duties at work
  • Lasts, or is likely to last, a period of 12 months or more.

Any impairment, whether it be mental or physical, should not be used to discriminate against you in the workplace.

Often one impairment can affect, or cause another, such as having bad migraines that can lead to your inability to concentrate and prevents you from completing work.

If you’re unsure whether you’re being treated unfairly at work because of an impairment, get in touch with our Employment Law Solicitors for legal advice. Ask if we can deal with your case on a No Win, No Fee basis.

Call us on 0808 258 3531 or request a callback

Definition of a Disability

A disability can be defined as: A physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on someone’s ability to do normal daily activities.

Disability Rights at Work

The Equality Act 2010 helps enforce, protect and promote your rights in the workplace, especially discrimination at work. It is against the law for employers and your colleagues to discriminate against you because of a disability. Having a disability falls within one of the Protected Characteristics listed under the Equality Act 2010.

Reasonable Adjustments

If adjustments are ‘reasonable’ they should be made by an employer to avoid employees or job applicants with disabilities being put at a disadvantage compared to non-disabled people.

An example of a reasonable adjustment might be being given a special piece of equipment, such as an ergonomic mouse for your computer to help you do your job, or working on a ground floor level, rather than having to use stairs to get to your workplace.

What is Classed as a Daily Activity?

Daily activities in the workplace include:

  • Remembering information
  • Following instructions
  • Concentrating
  • Interacting with colleagues
  • Movement-based activities
  • Using a phone or computer

Some daily work activities can be considered highly-specialised, such as those in IT, or working with small tools.

An employer must have measures in place in order to accommodate employees with mental or physical impairments which are classed as a disability. The employer should ask itself, how would that disabled employee be impacted if there were no measures in place at all and what reasonable adjustments can I make.

What Can Be Classed as a Disability?

The following illnesses and conditions can be classed as a disability, depending on the extent to which they affect an employee’s capacity to perform their daily activities:

  • Problems with sight or hearing
  • Conditions which affect certain organs such as Heart Disease, Asthma and Strokes
  • Learning disabilities
  • Dyslexia, Dyspraxia
  • Autistic spectrum disorders
  • Mental health conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders
  • Body or brain impairments
  • Muscle and joints conditions such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia
  • Progressive conditions such as motor neurone disease, forms of dementia

Examples of Conditions Automatically Considered a Disability

Employees are automatically protected against discrimination under The Equality Act 2010 from the day they are diagnosed with:

  • Cancer
  • HIV
  • Multiple Sclerosis

There are also conditions that will never be classed as a disability, such as:

  • Alcoholism and substance dependence
  • Hay fever
  • Abusive or violent behaviours

Disability Discrimination at Work

Disability discrimination at work can be both direct and indirect discrimination.

Direct Discrimination - When an employee is treated less favourably compared to others because of their disability, perceived disability or their association with someone who is disabled.

Indirect Discrimination - This occurs when a disabled employee is disadvantaged by a workplace practice, rule or procedure, such as recruitment or redundancy.

Disability discrimination is very serious and can occur in all kinds of work situations. If you feel you have been discriminated against at work in some way, including any of the following areas, contact our Employment Solicitors for advice:

  • Determining pay or promotion
  • Being dismissed for absences involving your disability
  • Dismissal because your disability is affecting your performance at work
  • Redundancy – Where your disability places you at a disadvantage when redundancy selection criteria is applied

How Simpson Millar Can Help You

We understand that making a claim against an employer for disability discrimination at work can be an emotive and sensitive area for many employees. So from the outset, we’ll handle your case sensitively. One of our Employment Lawyers can deal directly with your employer on your behalf, or can advise you without contacting your employer.

Our national team of Employment Solicitors and Lawyers are down-to-earth, friendly and pragmatic. We offer a reliable and prompt service, ensuring we’re available when you have a question, even outside normal office hours.

We know that not all clients are the same. Some may want to adopt a peace-making approach, but others may want and need firm legal action. We work with our clients and deliver advice according to their objectives. 

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