Are you aware of the circumstances under which someone may be classed as disabled in the context of employment? 

If an employee suffers from a long term condition which has a substantial detrimental effect on their ability to carry out normal day to day activities, they may be classed as disabled for employment purposes.  

This broad definition means that in most cases, a very careful analysis of the available medical information and facts of the case will be required to determine whether or not someone is legally classified as disabled. Having said that, no analysis is required for certain conditions, such as cancer, HIV and MS, since according to the law, these conditions are automatically identified as disabilities. 

Employer considerations

If an employee suffers from a condition that is legally classified as a disability, their employer is required to make reasonable adjustments to their job role or the workplace in order to assist the employee. Examples of employer support that might would be considered legally reasonable may include widening a doorway, changing the employee’s working hours or pattern of work, or permitting them to stay on sick leave longer than permitted under the employer’s usual policy on sick leave.  

If the employer fails to make reasonable adjustments, that is itself a form of discrimination. 

That’s not to say that the employee in question can make any demand of his or her employer. The legal requirement is that the employer act reasonably in the circumstances. Note the repeated use of the word ‘reasonable’ here. This is important. What is reasonable is not exhaustively listed anywhere. The standard that is applied by tribunals and courts for assessing what is reasonable depends on whether it would be ‘disproportionate’ to impose the adjustment on the employer. To determine that, the courts will consider the resources of the employer (but financial considerations alone are rarely a sole determinative factor), the effect of adjustments on the employer’s business and whether failing to make the adjustment places the disabled employee at a substantial disadvantage compared to other employees. 

Particularly in cases where an employee is significantly impacted by a disabling condition, employers may struggle to identify and implement reasonable adjustments that can improve the employee’s working experience. Their duty is to demonstrate that they have reasonably attempted to do so. Indeed, to successfully manage their employment law risk, it is vital that employers can demonstrate both the improvement measures that they’ve considered and how effectively they have engaged with the employee, including that they have reasonably sought all potential sources of information and funding to try to meet the needs of the employee. 

Employers may also struggle to manage the cost of having someone off sick while also needing to staff their position temporarily, often for an uncertain period of time. However, it’s, as the case mentioned in this article clearly highlights, the potential costs to an employer of mishandling a situation with a disabled employee are high.  

Our lawyers advise employers how to handle worker disability issues successfully on a daily basis. If any of the issues discussed above are of concern to you, you can find information and assistance here.   

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