Skip to main content
« Back to Blog

Disability Discrimination in the Workplace

The employment rate for disabled adults is 48% in the UK.  While the percentage of those in work is gradually increasing, the abled percentage in work is 74.6%. This discrepancy may in part be due to illnesses preventing people with disabilities working, but it could also reflect a more widespread prejudice that prevents many willing and capable applicants from finding work.

Ex-Army Veteran Mark Cock made the headlines in 2012 when he revealed that he had been turned down for a staggering 2,600 jobs.  He was qualified in Plumbing and Information Technology and could drive a vehicle but despite being fit for work and able to do the jobs he applied for, he kept being rejected – rejections he thought were triggered by him having only one leg, the other having been lost after a car accident. His difficulty in getting back into work after he became disabled is sadly not an isolated incident.

Elizabeth Green, a young mother with arthritis, wanted to re-train as a nursery nurse after the birth of her first child so that she could take her child to work with her so she attempted to enrol in the local college on a course that offered a two days a week placement in a childcare centre. The staff member told her the course wasn’t just academic, she would actually have to care for children and that with her ‘problems’, they didn’t think it was a good idea. Elizabeth explained she was already a mother and was caring for her six month old infant but the admissions team wouldn’t be swayed and she was denied entry to the course.

Protection from Discrimination

The Equality Act 2010 offers some protection against discrimination when finding work and while at work.  It is illegal for an employer or potential employer to discriminate against someone due to disability, if they are capable of doing the tasks that are required of the job and it wouldn’t present a health and safety risk (for example, alcohol or drug usage in a driving job).

As a disabled applicant, you can receive help to fill out your application form from your local jobcentre or access to work course.  You might also be entitled to help getting to job interviews.

An interviewer is allowed to ask about disability to establish if the person is able to complete the interview, if any ‘reasonable adjustments’ should be made during the interview process, if the applicant will be able to carry out job tasks or if the company want to increase the number of disabled workers on their books.  They aren’t allowed to use information about disability to reject an application for a job that an applicant is capable of doing.

In reality, though, most prospective employers don’t give a reason for rejecting an applicant so it is difficult for the disabled job seeker to prove that discrimination has occurred.  In Mark Cock’s case, he was frequently told his rejection was down to the Health and Safety Act or because he would make their insurance too expensive.  None of this, however, was put in writing where it would have come under the Equality Act as discrimination.

If you believe that you have been discriminated against during the recruitment process or when accessing further education, you can make a complaint to the Employment Tribunal.  They are an independent tribunal that settles legal disputes between potential employers or employers and applicants or workers.  They look at discrimination, unfair dismissal, pay disputes and other unlawful treatment claims.  There is a fee for making a claim and a court fee too.

Reasonable Adjustments

If you are accepted for a job, your employer is required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ so that you don’t encounter any difficulties during the course of your working day.  Adjustments could be the installation of a stair lift so you can reach the first floor, a chair with lumbar support so you don’t experience pain or modification of your working hours to fit around hospital appointments.  Failure to reasonably accommodate you is illegal.

Unfair Dismissal or Redundancy

If you become disabled during your career (only 17% of disabled people are born with their disability) then your boss cannot fire you or make you redundant if you can still carry out the job.  They can’t choose to make you redundant or force you to leave just because you have a disability.

If you believe you have been the victim of disability discrimination in the workplace or during the recruitment process, contact the team at Mayo Wynne Baxter Solicitors for no nonsense legal advice.


By Gemma Abrahams- Freelance Contributor