MS and employment law

The legislation

It is important to be aware of the specific laws that protect people affected by disabilities from discrimination in the workplace and whilst seeking employment. These are

  • The Equality Act (2010) – UK excluding Northern Ireland
  • The Disability Discrimination Act (1995) – Northern Ireland only

Whilst these are separate pieces of legislation, they both provide similar legal protection. Disability is regarded as one of a set of protected characteristics. Other recognised characteristics include age, religion/belief and sexual orientation.

Both Acts define ‘disability’ as being impaired, both physically and/or mentally, which impacts upon a person’s ability to carry out ‘normal’ daily activities on a long-term basis, with ‘long-term’ being defined as a period lasting at least 12 months. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is legally recognised as a disability under both Acts and as such your rights as a person with a disability are automatically protected from the date of your formal diagnosis.

Whilst these Acts provide protection for disabled people from being treated unfavourably because of something connected to their disability, it also suggests that they should be treated more favourably in comparison to their non-disabled colleagues, so long as it is the only way that equality of outcome can be achieved.

How am I protected?

Fundamentally the Acts protect you against discrimination in relation to employment matters. This includes during the job seeking process, whilst in employment and after your employment ends. The following are just a few examples of how the Acts protect you at different stages of employment.

  • Job seeking – Ensuring that you are not disadvantaged in the overall application process. Employers must not question applicants about their disability or state of health prior to a formal offer of employment unless this can be reasonably justified
  • During employment – Protects the right to equality of opportunity in relation to promotion, equality of pay and terms
  • Post-employment – Your disability cannot be used as a reason for your employment being terminated, job references must not refer to protected characteristics including disability

Types of discrimination

It is important to be aware of the different forms of disability discrimination that may impact you as a disabled person. The following summarises the main forms of workplace disability discrimination.

  • Direct discrimination – Where an employer’s treatment of you is influenced by their interpretation of your disability, which results in them treating you less favourably in comparison to colleagues who are not disabled
  • Indirect discrimination – Where you are placed at a particular disadvantage to colleagues as a result of a workplace policy or rule, which applies to everyone in the same way, but does not take into account your disability. Therefore it may have a negative impact on you as opposed to others.
  • Harassment – The way you are treated by colleagues because of your disability. This form of discrimination comes in many guises, such as verbal humiliation, discriminatory language and actions designed to engender indignity
  • Victimisation – If you have lodged a formal complaint of disability discrimination an employer must not use this as a reason to treat you unfairly