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Responsibility of disabled employees in the workplace to declare impairments

View profile for Susan Mayall
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Recent research shows that 1 in 5 UK workers attempt to hide their disability from their employer. The same study shows that over half of disabled people feel that their disability is putting them at risk of losing their job. In the current landscape, it must be considered what employees with disabilities must do by law for their employer to accommodate for their disability and what, if any, obligations rest on the shoulders of the employer in scenarios such as these. A recent case illustrates the responsibilities of both the employee and employer.

The case of Mutombo-Mpania v Angard Staffing Solutions Ltd.

The claimant in the case was dismissed from an organisation providing casual staff to the Royal Mail Group as a result of his non-attendance at work on four occasions. Following this, the claimant brought forward disability discrimination proceedings at the Employment Tribunal. The Tribunal found that the “claimant provided no evidence regarding the impact of the physical impairment [Essential Hypertension] to carry our normal day to day activities.” On this point, the Tribunal concluded that the burden of proof was on the claimant, i.e. it was the responsibility of the claimant to provide evidence that he had a physical impairment and the impairment had a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities in order for his disability to be a “protected characteristic” under the Equality Act 2010. Having done this would have allowed the claimant a better position from which to bring forward unlawful disability discrimination proceedings.

What, if anything, should Mutombo-Mpania’s employer have done in this situation? To answer this, it must be understood that the Equality Act 2010 places an obligation on employers to make a reasonable adjustment for disabled employees where such employees are placed at a severe disadvantage compared to non-disabled people. This obligation is only triggered when an employer has actual or constructive knowledge of an employee’s impairment, the latter referencing scenarios in which it is expected that the employer would know of the disability had s/he been reasonably diligent. All that Mutombo-Mpania’s employer had been offered was a vague reference to a “health condition”, which does not constitute constructive knowledge of disability. As a result of not having constructive knowledge, the claimant’s employer was not under the obligation to make reasonable adjustments for the claimant.

Responsibility of the disabled in the workplace

As illustrated by this case, it is paramount that a worker with a disability provides evidence of their medical condition along with the day-to-day disadvantages they suffer as a result of their medical condition. Should the employee suffer as a result of their disability at the workplace, without informing the employer of their disability, they risk putting themselves in a position in which they are unable to bring unlawful discrimination proceedings.

Equally, employers are under no obligation to make any such reasonable adjustments unless s/he has actual or constructive knowledge of the impairments and the disadvantages that the impairment brings.

If you require any further assistance with the topics discussed in this article, you can contact Susan Mayall on 0161 684 6984 at your earliest convenience.

Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers LLP or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.