The Equality Act (2010) aims to protect the same groups that are protected by the existing legislation, namely – Age, Disability, Gender Reassignment, Race, Religion or Belief, Sex, Sexual Orientation, Marriage and Civil Partnership and Pregnancy and Maternity.
These groups are now called ‘Protected Characteristics‘.
As well as updating some aspects of previous legislation, the Equality Act 2010 offers some protections to people who were not previously covered.
As a result, many companies may find it necessary to review and possibly amend policies and procedures and ensure that both managers and employees are clear about their rights and responsibilities under the new Equality Act.
The Equality Act says a disabled person is someone with ‘a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’. These ‘normal day to day activities’ could include reading a book, using public transport or using a computer.
Under the Act, to qualify for protection from discrimination, a disabled person no longer has to show that their impairment affects a particular ‘capacity’ such as mobility, speech or eyesight. A disabled person can now show the impact and difficulties in carrying out their day to day activities as a result of their disability.
As with the old legislation, employers still have a duty to make reasonable adjustments within the workplace to help individuals overcome any disadvantage that results from their impairment.
The difference is that previous reasonable adjustments to premises, policies, and procedures had to be made only where it was deemed to be ‘impossible or unreasonably difficult’ for a disabled person to use the service. Under the Equality Act adjustments must be made where disabled people experience a ‘substantial disadvantage‘.
Disability and discrimination can be a sensitive area in the workplace. As such managers may feel they need some guidance and advice on their responsibilities and legal obligations when dealing with a disabled employee.