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Sickness absence and disability discrimination updated

Issue date

This resource for trade unions reps seeks to increase understanding of the law and its limitations in relation to sickness absence and disability discrimination.

As a result of the law and of growing awareness of its existence, it has become more unusual for disabled workers to face dismissal or unequal treatment for the simple reason of being disabled, especially among larger employers. Nonetheless, ignorance of the detail of the law remains widespread, and among other issues, unions have reported throughout this time that employers are continuing to get rid of disabled workers by using their sickness absence, capability or other procedures, without taking due account of them being a disabled employee.

In 2016, with the decision of the Court of Appeal in the long-running case of Griffiths v. DWP, it again became necessary to revise TUC advice for this new edition, which replaces all previous versions. However, while interpretation of the law has shifted and been clarified, the essential elements for trade union representatives remain the same. These are:

  • Reasonable adjustment duty: an employer must make changes to things like policies and procedures, working hours, equipment or job role to maintain a disabled person’s employment.
  • Understanding the Equality Act and to use this to protect members from discrimination arising from disability in the EqA.
  • Disability related sickness absence and disability leave policy. The critically important starting point for changing an employer’s approach is to get absence for reasons associated with disability counted separately from sickness absence. Another element is for the employer to adopt a “disability leave” policy.

Disability disclosure may increase if disabled people have the confidence of being protected when disclosing their impairment. Having robust disability equality policies is key to this. This tool is for trade unions reps negotiating for inclusive practices  and support their disabled members.  

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