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
- 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 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
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.
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 you must notify the Labour Relations Agency. You will be offered early conciliation which can help you and your employer resolve the issue before you need to make a claim.
4. If your complaint is still not resolved you can lodge a claim with the tribunals. We may be able to provide you with legal representation. It is your responsibility to lodge your complaint of discrimination with the tribunal.
Only a tribunal decides whether the treatment you have complained of is unlawful discrimination. It is separate to, and independent from, the Equality Commission.
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).
Publications (in pdf format)
relevant to disability discrimination:
Time limits apply
Remember there are strict time limits for taking a case of disability discrimination. Complaints on employment issues must be made to the tribunals within three months from the date of the discriminatory act. Even if you are attempting to resolve problems internally, the statutory time limits still apply.
If you wish to lodge a claim with the tribunals, you must first notify the Labour Relations Agency and discuss the option of early conciliation. Potential claimants will not be able to proceed to tribunal without at least considering this option. Your time limit is likely to be affected by this.
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. You still need to contact the Labour Relations Agency before you lodge a claim out of time.
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