Employing disabled staff

Finding skilled staff is one of the biggest problems a small business has to face, but by not making allowances for disabled applicants you could be missing out on a large number of talented candidates, not to mention running the risk of legal action.

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), which came into effect for businesses of all sizes in October 2004, states that if it is impossible or unreasonably difficult for a disabled person to use their service, businesses will have to consider making physical changes to their building. This applies to both customers and employees. (Read our guide to Adapting for disabled customers.)

Areas covered by the DDA include:

  • People with long-term health conditions, such as diabetes
  • People with progressive conditions, such as multiple sclerosis
  • People who have been diagnosed with HIV, cancer and multiple sclerosis
  • People with learning disabilities
  • People with mental health conditions
  • People who have mobility impairments
  • Blind and partially-sighted people
  • Deaf and hearing-impaired people

This is not a complete list so if you are in doubt about whether someone is covered, contact the Disability Rights Commission.

The DDA does not mean having to employ someone who is unsuitable for the job, it is simply a matter of treating everyone fairly. This involves encouraging applications from disabled applicants by:

  • Including a statement in job advertisements to say you encourage applications from disabled applicants
  • Putting job application forms in different formats, like large print or on audio tape
  • Holding interviews in accessible buildings.

In the event that an existing employee becomes disabled, making adjustments that enable them to continue working for you means you retain their experience and skills and do not have to spend on recruiting and training a replacement.

The adjustments you make need not be major. For example:

  • Moving or removing unnecessary furniture would help someone with a mobility impairment to move around the building more easily
  • Altering someone’s working hours or giving them time off to attend hospital
  • Allowing them to sit down to do certain tasks
  • Allowing them to take several short breaks instead of one long one.

Failure to make reasonable adjustments such as these can result in legal action being taken against you by a disabled applicant or employee. This can be damaging to both your reputation and bank balance, even if you win the case. If you lose, the consequences can be catastrophic for you and your business.

Produced in association with the DWP.

Adam Wayland

Uriel Bruen

Adam was Editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2006 to 2008 and prior to that was staff writer on sister publication BusinessXL Magazine.

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