The Equality Act covers practically anything to do with employment, including recruitment, promotion, training, transfer or dismissal. To be protected, the person usually needs to have a 'disability' as defined.
- Equality Act coverage of employment is very wide.
- Other claims outside the Equality Act may be important too, such as unfair dismissal.
- The Guaranteed interview scheme can help disabled people get a job interview.
Scope of the Equality Act
Examples of what the Equality Act covers are
- discrimination in selecting a person for a job. This includes a duty to make reasonable adjustments to the selection process;
- treatment of a employee while in the job, including harassment/bullying, and again the important duty to make reasonable adjustments
- work training and other benefits or opportunities.
(Legal detail is in s.39 EqA).
New rules in Equality Act 2010 make it unlawful to ask about health and disability before making a job offer, except for certain permitted purposes.
This website deals with the Equality Act 2010, but other legislation may also be relevant. An example is 'unfair dismissal', which can apply on a dismissal or in some other situations where employment ends. Often a claim for unfair dismissal is brought alongside an Equality Act claim.
Unfair dismissal is wider than the Equality Act in that no discrimination is required. However unfair dismissal is also narrower in some ways. For example, a minimum period of continuous employment is usually required to claim unfair dismissal (the qualifying period is one year if the employment started before 6th April 2012, two years if it started on or after that date). Also there is a maximum limit on compensation for unfair dismissal, but no maximum for compensation under the Equality Act. More on unfair dismissal: Dismissal (link to adviceguide.org.uk).
An employer's reasons for selecting a particular employee for redundancy partly relate to his communication disability. The employee may have an Equality Act claim as regards his dismissal. However, depending on the circumstances, he may also have a claim for 'unfair dismissal', which might succeed even if the Equality Act claim does not.
Who is covered
The employment provisions of the Equality Act cover employees generally (excluding service in the armed forces). However, they also extend more widely. They cover some self-employed people, and also various other groups who are not legally 'employed', for example police, barristers and partners. 'Work experience' is covered, but to a large extent volunteers may not be. There are special rules protecting 'contract workers', in other words people who are legally employed by one company such as a recruitment agency but work for someone else. More: Employment: Who is covered.
Who is liable.
Employers are generally liable for acts of their employees and agents. Employees and agents can also be personally liable. There is also potential liability for people who instruct, cause, induce or aid discrimination. More: Who is liable.
Staff make fun of a colleague's speech impairment at an office Christmas party in a restaurant after work. The employer might be liable for harassment, as well as the staff involved being personally liable.
Guaranteed interview scheme
It is a good idea to look out for employers who display the disability symbol, for example on job adverts and application forms. The disability symbol is two ticks with the words 'positive about disabled people'.
These employers have guaranteed to interview all disabled applicants who meet the minimum criteria for a job vacancy and to consider them on their abilities. They should do this even if, for example, there are other 'better applications'. Employers within this scheme also make various other commitments, which are listed on Direct.gov.uk: The Disability Symbol.
The commitments are not legally binding - they are not part of the Equality Act.
Often it will be possible to resolve any disputes informally, or through an employer's internal procedures. Conciliation or mediation is another possibility. Where a claim is made to an Employment Tribunal, the time limit is normally three months from the discrimination. More: Disputes.
'Employment services' are covered by separate rules (s.55-56 EqA) within the 'Work' section of the Equality Act. 'Employment services' may include, for example, careers advice, vocational training services, and some services of recruitment agencies. However, sometimes these services will fall within the 'Education' provisions of the Act (the example in video below may do so). See Employment services.
Careers advice example:
From Scope's 'Speaking for Ourselves': Interview with Alan Counsell, who has cerebral palsy. Click link for transcript. Alan is a writer, teacher and trainer.