I have come to recognise that there is a mixed view on whether it really works or not depending on the individuals that are spoken to, especially with regards to reasonable adjustment within the workplace. When speaking to officials (including trade union officials who deal with case work) they can not speak highly enough of the Act and are able to state that as a result of the legislation they have been able to resolve a number of case work issues. This is great but why cant this be the same for everyone whether you have representation or not?
I have also spoke with a number of people who haven't been helped by this legislation because one of the biggest flaws is the interpretation of reasonable adjustment especially in the case of the employee against the employer, as this is sadly the time it fails the most because the employer doesn't have to improve things if they are seen to have tried. This situation often leaves disabled people feeling like they have no choice but to leave the employment.
The Equality Act states some wonderful points about how an individual can be protected by this Act and I have even found some examples as to what could be described as discrimination under the Act. But in reality, it is sad to say that what the Act claims and what it is actually achieving does not seem to correlate.
So what does the Equality Act claim? Firstly the new Equality Act isn't just talking about disability it is putting all the discrimination laws together. So as mentioned above how can this be better, surely something is going to be missed and suffer as a result of lumping the different laws into one act. These are the differences according to the DWP:
" The EA generally carries forward the protection provided for disabled people by the DDA. However, there are key differences.
- The DDA provided protection for disabled people from direct discrimination only in employment and related areas. The EA protects disabled people against direct discrimination in areas beyond the employment field (such as the supply of goods, facilities and services).
- The EA introduced improved protection from discrimination that occurs because of something connected with a person’s disability. This form of discrimination can be justified if it can be shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
- The EA introduced the principle of indirect discrimination for disability. Indirect discrimination occurs when something applies in the same way to everybody but has an effect which particularly disadvantages, for example, disabled people. Indirect discrimination may be justified if it can be shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
- The EA applies one trigger point at which there is a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. This trigger point is where a disabled person would be at a substantial disadvantage compared to non-disabled people if the adjustment was not made.
- The EA extends protection from harassment that is related to disability. Previously, explicit protection only applied in relation to work. The EA applies this protection to areas beyond work.
- The EA provides protection from direct disability discrimination and harassment where this is based on a person’s association with a disabled person, or on a false perception that the person is disabled.
The EA contains a provision which limits the type of enquiries that a recruiting employer can make about disability and health when recruiting new staff. This provision will help prevent disabled candidates from being unfairly screened out at an early stage of the recruitment process. "
So why, if these new changes are so great is there still a big problem and in particular misunderstanding towards what is reasonable adjustment? The answer is quite simple that 'reasonable adjustment' is open to interpretation and is able to be interpreted in such a way that people living with a disability are not favoured. It is the individuals living with disabilities word against a corporate organisation that have professionals who are trained in finding loop holes to ensure that they can avoid taking responsibility.
Looking above at the differences the DWP have raised, who decides whether the discrimination that occurs is because of something connected with a person’s disability, how is this decided? If an employer doesn't want to deal with the issue then its not that hard to turn a blind eye using someone's lack of ability (their disability) as the reason for the discriminatory behaviour.
Over the last year and over the coming months more individuals living with a disability will be found fit for work. This will mean that there will be more people trying to find work. This in itself causes a problem with regards to discrimination. As I have experienced myself it becomes much harder to get a job for a number of reasons. Not only are you more limited to the type of job that you can do, but even if you apply for a job and get an interview you are less likely to get the job. If you have two applicants for a job with exactly the same experience and qualifications but one has a disability and the other does not, which one would you employ? I think we all know the answer to that.
Many individuals with a disability would like to work but they need support and understanding to do so, individuals do get lucky with employers and there are individuals with a disability who are successful in work but unfortunately they are in the minority. So going back to my original thought, about the Equality Act is it really working? I feel that it is not working in far too many situations as it is open to too much interpretation, often being interpreted to benefit big businesses rather than the individuals it was set to protect.
The Equality Act can work, the next step is to make sure it works for everyone, all of the time. People living with a disability and who are able to work shouldn't be the exception to the rule. With a little understanding and some reasonable adjustment people living with a disability have a lot to offer given the chance. People living with disability should be allowed to have the same opportunities as their able bodied counterparts.
To ensure this happens and that the Equality Act works for, rather than against people living with disabilities there needs to be clear guidelines that are followed and not interpreted to suit the needs of corporate business. A shift in attitudes towards the Act is paramount to ensure that more is being done to protect peoples rights to a life that everyone would wish to have. People living with disabilities have much to give if allowed to do so and if given equal opportunities. For real change there needs to investment to encourage businesses to make lasting changes that benefit all not an elitist few.