The Equality Act, health and safety and disability

04 November 2010
The Equality Act, health and safety and disability

Q: I've been struggling to understand the Equality Act 2010 - especially where this runs into conflict with other factors such as health and safety. Is not accommodating a disabled person for health and safety reasons now discriminatory?

It will depend on the facts in question.

Under the Equality Act 2010, you have a positive and pro-active 'duty to make reasonable adjustments' to accommodate those with disabilities. This is so that people with disabilities are not unfairly disadvantaged by comparison with those without disabilities. 

The duty can apply in a number of ways: it may involve changing how you do things (eg your rules and procedures), changing your physical set-up (eg installing a ramp) or providing some equipment or service to overcome any relevant barriers (such as an interpreter, or some computer software). However you are only expected to make those adjustments which are reasonable for your organisation.

It pays to remember that some kinds of discrimination (such as indirect discrimination and discrimination arising from a disability) are lawful if they can be objectively justified.

To be objectively justified, what you do should be a "proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim". A legitimate aim is what you can lawfully consider in the running of your organisation (eg the wellbeing of your clients or the health and safety of your staff). A "proportionate means" of achieving that aim is a sufficient but not excessive way to achieve the aim in question.

You should carefully balance the severity of the discrimination against the severity of the risks you face. You are only expected to come to a fair and sensible decision, based on material evidence (ie. a risk assessment or similar) taking into account your responsibilities to everyone concerned.

If you're unsure of this area of the law, you can give the Equality and Human Rights Commission a call. There are also a number of guides in our equality & diversity section which may help.

Please note that HRBird by its very nature offers general information. If you're looking for advice specific to your situation, speak to an HR professional or solicitor.Got a question on staff or volunteers? To submit an anonymous query for the HRBird blog, contact us.  

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