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Unsure of your equality rights or the law? We can provide advice and assistance for people who feel they have been discriminated against.
 
 

Disability

Work related problem

What you need to know

How we can help

The Legislation

Case Studies

 

Have I been discriminated against because of my disability?
 

If you have been treated unfairly because of your disability, this may be unlawful discrimination.


Disability is defined as:
 

“a physical or mental impairment which has substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.”
 

Long-term means: lasting, or likely to last, at least 12 months.  Normal day-to-day activities include:
 

  • Mobility – moving from place to place
  • Manual dexterity – use of hands, wrists or fingers
  • Physical co-ordination
  • Continence
  • Ability to lift, carry or otherwise move ordinary objects
  • Speech, hearing or eyesight
  • Memory or ability to concentrate
  • Ability to learn or understand
  • Ability to recognise the risk of physical danger
  • Taking part in normal social interaction
  • Forming social relationships


A person’s obesity may affect their day to day activities so that it might be considered a disability, but obesity is not a protected ground under discrimination law.

If as a result of your disability you are treated worse than another person in a similar situation or an employer fails to make reasonable changes to allow you to work / be interviewed etc (see below), you can challenge the treatment under the disability discrimination law.

Your rights also apply if you have had a disability in the past.  For example:  If you were disabled by mental ill health in the past but are now fully recovered you can challenge unfair treatment under the disability discrimination laws.

Is all disability discrimination the same?

No, there are different types of disability discrimination, and it doesn’t have to be intentional to be unlawful.
 

The main forms are:

 

Direct discrimination is where you are treated worse than others because of your disability.

For example: A blind person is not short-listed for a job using a computer because the employer wrongly assumes that a blind person could not use one.

 

Reasonable adjustment is specific to disability discrimination law.  An employer must ensure the workplace and all aspects of employment do not make it unreasonably difficult for you to apply for or carry out your job.

For example:  An employee with dyslexia applies for a promotion and part of the selection process involves writing letters.  The employee finds it difficult to write letters in stressful situations and within short deadlines.  The employer allows the disabled employee more time to take the test.

 

Harassment is where a person behaves in a way, because of your disability, which violates your dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

For example:  A man starts a new job and informs his work colleagues that he has a hearing impairment.  After informing them they start making jokes and insults about his hearing.  He now feels very uncomfortable in work.

 

Victimisation is where you have made a complaint of disability discrimination or helped someone else with a complaint under the disability discrimination law, and suffered as a result.

For example:  An employee is dismissed because they were a witness for a colleague in a disability discrimination hearing.
 

Associative discrimination is when someone is treated unfavourably on the basis of another person's protected characteristic.

For example: A candidate who has been told she is getting a job is suddenly deselected after revealing she has a severely disabled child with complicated care arrangements. The withdrawal of the job offer could amount to discrimination because of her association with a disabled person (disability being a protected characteristic).

 

How common is this?

Over the past three years we have helped more than 2,500 people who have experienced some form of disability discrimination.

 

We helped individuals with issues such as:
 

  • Sick absence/medical 
  • Dismissal
  • Harassment
 

How am I protected against disability discrimination?

You are protected from disability discrimination in all aspects of working life:
 

  • Applying for a job
  • Terms and conditions in a job
  • Opportunities for training / promotion
  • Disciplinary / grievance procedures
  • The working environment
  • Dismissal / redundancy
  • Job references. 


However, there are limited circumstances where disability discrimination may not be unlawful - if due to the nature of your disability and with the provision of reasonable adjustments you would be unable to carry out the tasks necessary to do the job. 
 
Examples:
 

  • A factory requires a machine operator for a large industrial machine. No alterations can be made to the machine, therefore for the health and safety of workers, some people with disabilities would be unable to operate the machine.
  • Application to and membership of the armed forces.
 

What are my options?

1. Contact our Discrimination Advice Officers who will provide you with free and confidential information and guidance to help you resolve your issue.

2. Raise your complaint directly with your employer and seek a resolution.

3. If a resolution is not reached and you wish to take your case further we may be able to provide you with legal 
    representation. You must lodge your complaint of discrimination with the tribunal.

NB: Only a tribunal decides whether the treatment you have complained of is unlawful discrimination. It is separate to, and independent from, the Equality Commission.
 


Contact us
If you require assistance or would like to make a discrimination complaint, complete our online form or telephone 028 90 500 600 (10am-4pm, Mon-Fri).

 

Useful publications

 
 

Time limits

Remember there are strict time limits for taking a case of disability discrimination. Complaints on employment issues must be made to the tribunal within three months less one day from the date of the discriminatory act.

If your time limit has expired the tribunal has discretion to extend the time for you to lodge your claim; this is used sparingly and it is unwise to assume that an extension will be granted.


< Work related problem

 
Ask for advice

If you require information or advice please complete our online form. All information you submit is confidential – and if you wish to be contacted by us, please let us know the best way for you. You don’t have to share any personal information with us – we will not be able to identify you if that is your preference.



Make a discrimination complaint

We may be able to provide you with legal assistance. If you want to find out more, please use our discrimination complaint form complaint form to tell us the nature of your discrimination complaint and whether it is related to your age, disability, gender, race, religious belief/political opinion or sexual orientation.

Tell us what happened and we will contact you to talk through your complaint further.
 
 

Equality Commission NI
Alternatively, contact us:

Telephone: 028 90 500 600
Textphone: 028 90 500 589
Fax: 028 90 248 687
Email: information@equalityni.org

Address:
Equality House
7-9 Shaftesbury Square
Belfast  BT2 7DP

 
We have listed below current legislation relevant to disability discrimination.  You should note that equality and anti-discrimination law may be changed or updated.  The law is also complex and can require interpretation.  Please feel free to contact our discrimination advice team if you need clarification or guidance on what the law means. Email: discriminationadvice@equalityni.org or tel: 028 90 500 600.


Disability Discrimination Law

Main law for employment:

 

 

Main amending/supplementary laws:
 


Other amending/supplementary laws:
 


European Union law:
 

  • Directive 2000/78/EC - equal treatment in employment on grounds of religion and belief, disability, sexual orientation, age
 

 
 
Angela's story
Disability discrimination case
 
 
Elizabeth's Story
Disability discrimination case
 
 
Marie-Claire's story
Disability discrimination case
 
 
Angela's story
Angela McCracken, a nursing auxiliary, was awarded £16,684 by an industrial tribunal because her employer failed to act promptly to put a reasonable adjustment in place to accommodate her return to work.  Angela developed a degenerative eye condition and has no peripheral vision.  She experiences temporary difficulties in adjusting to changes in lighting.

On notifying her employer that she was ready to return to work after maternity leave, her employer referred her to Occupational Health.   A report from her consultant ophthalmologist confirmed that she was fit for work but that she “should only be placed in work where it is brightly lit.”  Her employer failed to agree to make this adjustment for her and she was dismissed.  Angela complained that this was disability discrimination, won her case and is back in her job.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements
 
Elizabeth's Story

Elizabeth Boyle v SCA Packaging Ltd
Elizabeth Boyle received £125,000 following a House of Lords ruling against her former employer, SCA Packaging Limited.  Elizabeth suffered from hoarseness and loss of voice caused by vocal nodules.  She required surgery and a strict regime to ensure the problems did not recur.  This included limiting the use of her voice, staggering telephone calls, avoiding smoky, dry or dusty atmospheres, speaking quietly, reducing background noise and maintaining high hydration levels.

 

Elizabeth followed her regime rigidly.  However, her employer removed a partition wall between her office and a stock control room which affected her work environment.  She complained that the employer’s action was a failure to make a reasonable adjustment for her disability and the court agreed that this was disability discrimination.


Read more of our case decisions and settlements


 

 
Marie-Claire's story
Marie-Claire McLaughlin was employed by Charles Hurst Ltd working an average of 47.8 hours per week including Saturday mornings. She had suffered previously from mental ill-health and had absences from work due to bouts of depression and panic attacks. Marie-Claire applied to reduce her working hours to 40 per week and, in her application, she made specific reference to her disability and the severe impact it was having on her and her work colleagues.

The timeframe for dealing with Marie-Clarie's request was long drawn out – it took fourteen months in all and the Tribunal considered that this was at least four and a half months too long. The Tribunal stated “Had the employer focused correctly on the concept of reasonable adjustments under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and taken a proactive approach to the matter, all members of the tribunal are satisfied that the claimant would have had the benefit of the reduced hours she sought at an earlier stage.”

The Tribunal held that there was no doubt that the treatment Ms McLaughlin received at work affected her mental health and well-being stating, “the treatment which the claimant received at work (ie. the failure to grant her a reasonable adjustment in terms of allowing her to work reduced hours) inevitably compounded and exacerbated to a serious degree any pre-existing condition, and was a major cause of her mental health issues at the relevant time.”  Marie-Claire was awarded £11,840.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements
 
 

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