Equality at work

Whether you’re looking for a job, in employment or you’re a recruiter yourself, understanding your rights, responsibilities and entitlements when it comes to employment can be tricky. We take a look at what you need to know to ensure that your place of work is fully inclusive.

Disabled people and carers face various challenges every day. Whether it’s physically, emotionally or in terms of time-management, life can be difficult at times.

Work is one such challenge. A survey carried out by the Clear Company last year showed that 74% of disabled jobseekers were reluctant to declare their disability to recruiters, proving that there is still a sense of unease among disabled people hoping to get into the job market. Things like needing time off for medical appointments, the need for adjustments in the workplace and even lack of understanding from colleagues are all big concerns.


“At Remploy we are driven by the fundamental belief that every disabled person can, with appropriate support and specialist advice, secure sustainable employment,” says Gareth Parry, Disability Capability Director at Remploy. “In a tight labour market and at a time of economic stringency, employers are looking for employees on whom they can rely to do the job well and consistently. It is all about recognising ability not disability, and being aware that employing disabled people does not require massive adjustments or disruption to a workplace.”

Every recruiter in the UK is legally obligated to ensure that their organisation is inclusive to all and, as Gareth says, this doesn’t have to mean a lot of extra work. Both employers and workers should familiarise themselves with the Equality Act, legislation which bans the unfair treatment of people based on protected characteristics such as race, gender or disability. The Equality Act ensures that, in the workplace, employees don’t face discrimination in terms of getting a job, keeping a job or progressing within a company.

Even with this protection, many people do feel anxious when it comes to disclosing their disability. Under the Act, employers cannot ask job applicants about their disability until they have offered the person a job, except in very restricted circumstances. However, employers are only legally obligated to support disabled employees if they know about the disability, so the more open you are, the more your boss can help you.


One aspect of the Equality Act which can cause confusion is the requirement to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to meet the needs of disabled employees.

“Often quite small adjustments are all that are required – flexible working hours, training for managers and co-workers, or providing a mentor,” Gareth explains. “Collectively these small adjustments can have a significant impact, not only the disabled person’s life chances, but also on the workplace environment – making it more inclusive, friendly and productive.”

When making a change, employers have lots of things to consider. The effectiveness of the change made, how practical it is and the financial implications. You and your employer might be eligible for support from the Access to Work programme run by the Government to help cover costs. This provides advice and support to disabled people and their employers to help create a fully-inclusive workplace. The programme can provide funding towards things like appropriate computer screens, suitable seating and even lighting.


You may also be able to request for adjustments to be made to your working hours. Carers, for instance, have the right to request flexible working hours to fit in with their caring responsibilities. Most carers will qualify for this once they have been working with a company for 26 weeks.

Time off work sick can be another concern. Legally, employers cannot discriminate against a disabled person because of their disability or because of any circumstances which might arise from it. Employers often look at things like time off sick when making decisions about bonuses or promotion. If they were to treat a disabled employee in the exact same way they would a non-disabled employee if the time off for medical appointments or illness was related to their disability, it could be considered discrimination. Disability-related absence should be treated differently from general sick leave, and employers should keep in touch when the employees is off sick to keep them up to date with what’s happening in their absence and to come up with a plan for their return.


It’s not just about finding a workplace which can meet your physical requirements. Emotionally, starting a new job can be a nerve-wracking time for anyone. A disability can be an extra worry. Gareth explains: “The key to supporting disabled people into work is ensuring that recruiters have a team of front-line advisors, with the relevant skills and understanding of disability, and with the right attitudes of how to support disabled people into sustainable employment.

“Disabled people may not have worked for a long time, and as a result, their self-esteem and confidence may have been dented. An important consideration in enabling disabled people to move into, or back into, the labour market is to encourage self-belief.”

Employers should do all they can to understand the employee’s situation, whether it’s through regular meetings for updates or even researching their condition or illness. More and more organisations are setting up networks and groups for disabled employees, supporting them in their jobs and enabling them to speak up about any difficulties they are facing. Turn the page to see how EDF Energy’s Disability and Carers Network is working for the company’s employees.

For extra support, organisations and charities like Remploy and Shaw Trust can provide support and information for workers and their employers. The Equality and Human Rights Commission website is another great resource to keep up to date with relevant legislation. Don’t hesitate to contact the organisation’s helpline if you feel you are being discriminated against in your job search or work place either.

With the right knowledge, equality is achievable in the world of work. Make sure you know your stuff to make it possible for everyone.


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Equality Human Rights Commission

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