Equality Act

The Equality Act gives legal protection to people from discrimination at work, when buying goods or when accessing services. It also applies to education.

The majority of the Act came into force in October 2010 and brought together nine separate pieces of anti-discrimination legislation, including major parts of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

How is disability defined by the Equality Act?

The Equality Act defines a disabled person as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

The Act states that a person who has multiple sclerosis is a disabled person. This means that the person is protected by the Act effectively from the point of diagnosis (Schedule 1, Paragraphs 6 and 8).

The Equality Act requires employers to make reasonable adjustments to support a person with a disability to remain in employment. Where a disabled person is at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with people who are not disabled, there is a duty to take reasonable steps to remove that disadvantage by (i) changing provisions, criteria or practices, (ii) altering, removing or providing a reasonable alternative means of avoiding physical features and (iii) providing auxiliary aids.

Examples of adjustments are:

  • Phased return to work following a relapse.
  • Time off for MS-related appointments such as physiotherapy (these should not be counted as 'sick' time).
  • Changes to working hours eg reducing hours, or changing work patterns.
  • Changes to duties which recognise the disabled person's limitations. It may be possible to use Access to Work to pay for a support worker who can help with some tasks. Or some duties may be allocated to another worker.
  • Transferring to another role within the company.
  • Providing a dedicated parking space close to the entrance.
  • Providing equipment to deal with practical and / or job related issues. Examples of this kind of adjustment are the provision of a powered wheelchair at work, alterations to the building such as a ramp, changes to computer equipment / software. Access to Work may be able to help with some of the costs of equipment and alterations.

Disciplinary action or dismissal

The Equality Act does not protect a disabled person from disciplinary action for poor performance or inappropriate conduct. However the employer must ensure that the employee is not treated unfairly due to their disability. This means they have to consider whether the person's condition contributed to the problem and what steps were taken to manage any difficulties that had been identified. Dismissal should only be considered after a full exploration of reasonable adjustments in the workplace.

Making a claim about discrimination

If you believe you have been discriminated against at work, you can make a claim to an employment tribunal. Before taking this step, some people may choose to complain formally or informally to their employer to see if the situation can be resolved in this way first. Citizens Advice has information on how to make a claim and prepare for an employment tribunal.

The Equality Act has extended protection to include:

  • Protecting people from discrimination because they associate with someone who has a disability, such as family members or carers
  • Protection from indirect discrimination, such as an employer making general changes that have a disproportionate effect on employees with a disability.

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