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Jenny Rankin, a Solicitor in the Employment and Business Immigration Team at Cleaver Fulton Rankin, discusses how disability is defined within Northern Irish legislation, what protections are afforded to disabled employees, and what adjustments should be made by employers in order to ensure that they are providing adequate support to their staff and to protect their business from claims of disability discrimination.
The key legislation within Northern Ireland which protects those classified as disabled from discrimination is the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, as amended (the “DDA”). This legislation defines disabled persons as those with a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. The effect does not have to be severe but it must be more than minor or trivial and generally must have lasted, or is likely to last, more than 1 year.
Individuals who are suffering from serious illnesses, such as cancer and multiple sclerosis, will be protected by the DDA from the day of their diagnosis, rather than from the point in which the condition has the adverse effect on their abilities. The DDA also provides protection from discrimination for individuals who would have met the definition of disabled in the past.
The DDA is the primary legislation for protecting disabled persons from discrimination within the workplace and defines instances of discrimination within employment as the following:
If a disabled person feels that they are subjected to any of the circumstances outlined above during the course of their employment, they may make a claim to the Industrial Tribunal that they are being discriminated against on the basis of their disability.
It is important to note that, unlike unfair dismissal, individuals do not need to be employed for at least one year to make a claim of discrimination and there is no limit on the amount of compensation which can be awarded by the Tribunal. It is also important for employers to remember that protection from disability discrimination applies to applicants as well as employees.
All employers within Northern Ireland have a statutory duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people within their employment, as provided within section 4a of the DDA. Reasonable adjustments are steps which must be taken to ensure that disabled persons are not disadvantaged in comparison to their colleagues who are not disabled.
It is important to remember that employers may be required to make numerous reasonable adjustments in order to accommodate a disabled employee. The following is a non-exhaustive list of examples of reasonable adjustments which employers may make to support a disabled employee:
It can be difficult for employers to gauge what is “reasonable” and how to balance the needs of a disabled employee against the needs of their business. The DDA provides the following list of factors which employers should take into consideration if they are contemplating whether an adjustment is reasonable:
It is imperative that employers are mindful that the refusal to make an adjustment should only be considered if they have substantial reasons for doing so and legal advice should be sought before making any such decision.
If you require any advice in respect of reasonable adjustments, or have any other employment law related query, the Employment Team at Cleaver Fulton Rankin would be happy to assist you.
This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor.