Data in a government report, Disability Facts and Figures, published in 2014 shows that, although 13% of non-disabled people experience unfairness at work, the figure for disabled people rises to 19%.
Many GP practices are unaware of the ways in which they may be putting themselves at risk of a claim of disability discrimination. Employers are expected to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate employees' (and potential employees') disabilities, but what does this mean in practice?
What is a ‘reasonable adjustment’?
What is reasonable in one business may not be reasonable in another; this is dependent upon the size of the business and the disruption that the adjustment may cause.
In a small business such as a GP practice, it may not always be reasonable, or even possible, to put the necessary adjustments into place. Decisions need to be made on a case-by-case basis and practices in doubt should take advice from an occupational health adviser and employment law adviser. Prohibitive costs may make the withdrawal of a job offer lawful.
Reasonable adjustments when recruiting
The Equality Act 2010 protects not only existing employees but potential employees from disability discrimination. Practices should ensure their equal opportunities policy covers the recruitment process.
Team members involved in recruitment should receive full training before involvement in recruiting new staff.
When recruiting, take care to:
- Put requirements into the advert or person specification only if they really are essential for the job. If your practice nurse is not required to do house calls but you say a driving licence is necessary, then you could be discriminating against a disabled candidate who cannot hold a licence but is otherwise qualified
- Provide the advert and accept applications in different formats. This could involve providing an audio advert and accepting a recorded application.
- Check with candidates whether they need reasonable adjustments to be made when they attend for interview. This will ensure that a candidate who may not have revealed a disability can be fairly assessed for the vacancy. You cannot then use this information to discriminate against them as a suitable candidate and the information should be stored separately from the selection process documentation. Reasonable adjustments may include wheelchair access or an interpreter or holding the interview at a certain time of day.
- Avoid questions about health and sickness absence. This is a breach of Section 60 of the Equality Act. You may offer a job conditionally based on pre-employment health checks. If a health check reveals a disability, then you must make reasonable adjustments.
You should also avoid asking a previous employer about health and sickness absence unless this is in relation to a defined exception of Section 60. An example of this would be asking if the applicant can carry out an intrinsic part of the job eg heavy lifting and handling, although a reasonable adjustment may still be that this part of the job be passed to another employee.
A candidate cannot claim discrimination just because you asked a health-related question, but if you subsequently use the information to discriminate then this would be a breach of the Act.
Reasonable adjustments during employment
The duty to make reasonable adjustments arises when an employee with a disability is placed at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with other employees. If this is the case, the practice should seek advice on what adjustments can be made.
Sufficient research should be done and this should be recorded. The Department for Work and Pensions’ Access to Work Scheme can provide disabled employees with support and even funding of specific adaptations.
The following could be reasonable adjustments in a GP practice:
- A member of staff with dyslexia has a job where reading, ordering and scheduling information on spreadsheets is a significant part of his duties. A reasonable adjustment could be to provide specialist software which makes the screen easier to read and provides audio of text.
- A GP practice with its own car park provides a designated parking space for an employee with mobility problems.
- A practice secretary who has had back surgery and is expected to continue to be affected by the problem long-term is provided with a special seat and her workstation is adjusted.
- A receptionist who suffers from depression and cannot cope with being at the front desk is offered a vacant post in the office dealing with incoming mail and coding.
- A practice nurse who has diabetes is able to schedule her clinics to accommodate regular breaks.
A word about obesity
A case heard by the European Court of Justice last year confirmed that obesity can constitute a disability, although it is of itself not a protected characteristic. The key points arising from this decision are:
- Practices should bear in mind during the recruitment process that obesity may be a disability
- The decision is most likely to apply to morbidly obese employees whose weight means that they are disadvantaged in comparison with other colleagues
- The obesity may cause conditions such as diabetes or depression, which may themselves be considered to be a disability whether or not caused by the obesity and whether or not the obesity itself is a disability
- A reasonable adjustment may be specialist seating or a designated parking space close to the surgery, as above.
Fiona Dalziel is a practice management consultant. www.dlpracticemanagement.co.uk