The Disability Discrimination Act - a vital piece of legislation

Submitted by Brian Munro on Sat, 04/11/2009 - 13:43
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Disabled workersLike most reps and activists in the union I have not had to deal with the Disability and Discrimination Act (DDA) in any great detail. I am aware of the headline issues: the DDA exists; it is a bad thing if an employer discriminates against someone who is disabled; and an employer must carry out a thing called "reasonable adjustments" for existing staff and potential recruits. But that was the extent of my knowledge.

But now that I am disabled (I have had treatment for cancer and as a result will go blind in one eye) London Underground must apply reasonable adjustments to my situation - so I thought, I better look into this thing - the DDA.

The DDA is a significant, wide-ranging and important piece of legislation which protects workers who are covered under the terms of the Act. According to the blurb in the DDA Code of Practice, there are ten million disabled adults in our society. Now that is a lot of people and will necessarily involve a substantial amount of workers across industry. It covers anyone "who has a physical or mental impairment which has an effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities... physical or mental impairment includes sensory impairment. Hidden impairments are also covered (for example, mental illness or mental health problems, learning disabilities, dyslexia, diabetes and epilepsy)." Anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer or is HIV positive is also included under the terms of the Act.

The Act applies to existing workers and includes those applying for jobs and promotion. It applies to small employers as well as large organisations and it’s purpose is clear: it is unlawful for men and women to be discriminated against in the workplace because of a disability. This includes failure to make reasonable adjustments, harassing disabled staff, subjecting disabled workers to a detriment and even victimising workers.

The big issue for me because it will be appled to me soon enough, is the employers duty to make reasonable adjustments. The code of practice says the duty arises “where a provision, criterion or practice applied by or on behalf of the employer, or any physical feature of premises occupied by the employer, places a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage compared with people who are not disabled.” So an employer should make such steps that are reasonable to make sure the disabled person is not disadvantaged. For example, if someone suffers fatigue as a result of their disability an employer could consider longer breaks or a change to working hours.

The Act also covers disabled staff when the employer does not even know that the person concerned has a disability. The code of practice gives an example of a woman with depression which causes her to cry at work. If the employer makes no effort to find out if the employee is disabled then the employer will be in breach of the duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Employers have a legal duty to carry out reasonable adjustments and if an employer fails to make them then the issue can be taken to an employment tribunal. Reasonable adjustments include such things as making physical alterations to offices and premises; allocating some of the disabled person’s responsibilities to another person; new training; allowing the person to be absent during working or training hours for rehabilitation, assessment or treatment; acquiring or modifying equipment; modifying procedures for testing or assessment. The possible adjustments that can be made to ensure that the disabled worker is not discriminated against are vast. And the disabled worker should be involved and their opinion sought throughout the process.

Above is only a summary of some of the main tenets of the act but there is a lot more to it than this.

The DDA is an important and vital piece of legislation which aims to stop discrimination against disabled people. The RMT campaigns for equality in society and in the workplace - so it is imperative that activists and reps familiarise themselves with this important piece of legislation.

The Disability Discrimination Act, Employment and Occupation - Code of Practice is an excellent document for those who wish to arm themselves with the main terms of the Act. I have included it as an attachment for those who will need it . Just click on the attachment below.

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