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>> Essentials....

I felt ostracised
and isolated
Workplace discrimination against
people with disabilities goes far
beyond not providing a ramp
for wheelchair users or adapting
premises. It can be insidious and
indirect, or even downright bullying.
So what can you do if it happens to
you? Laura Marcus reports..... Gary Mazin

When Gary Mazin was told during a company see properly. They mocked me as I stumbled into
trip to Amsterdam that attendance was things. It was very playground-like and cruel the
mandatory at a meeting to be held in a dark rst time Id been treated like that as an adult.
and noisy nightclub, he nally knew his Because Gary always hit and exceeded his
employers would never take his disabilities targets and did very well at the job hed been doing
seriously. They had repeatedly refused to for eight years, he knew his employers would not
make allowances for him or recognise he had be able to nd an excuse to sack him. Instead, he
a condition that required adaptation. says they managed him out of his role.

Gary, 42, a recruitment worker, has Ushers I complained to HR but they said it was very
Syndrome, a condition he was born with and much my word against theirs. The HR managers
which leads to progressive sight and hearing loss. response was: Well what do you expect us
to do? Once word got out that Id dobbed on
The nightclub meeting was an absolute another staff member I was treated with open
nightmare for me, he says. I had told my hostility and pretty much removed from any
manager the meeting would cause me decision making.
difculties and why. He just wasnt interested.
Said I had to go. Id never normally go anywhere They said it would be a good idea for me to
near a nightclub. work from home for a couple of days a week,
then this stretched to three then four days a
week, adds Gary. I felt ostracised and isolated
They mocked me as I from the whole company. It was obvious they
stumbled into things. It was wanted me to leave.

very playground-like and cruel Gary points out that the company was very hot
on always making sure that special meals were
After people had a few drinks, a number of them available for employees with dietary or religious
started to ridicule me openly for not being able to issues, but they could not or would not adapt to
140 Living with Disability
a worker with disabilities. The recruitment world In the end Gary asked for, and was given,
is very sales driven and banter is part of every voluntary redundancy with a payoff as the
day working life. Thats ne. But theres a company was concerned he might have had a
difference between banter and outright bullying: case against them for discrimination. As often
when it happens to you, you know it. happens with people who feel theyve been
bullied out of a job, he preferred just to leave than
take them on.
Theres a difference between
banter and outright bullying: Im much happier now working for Enhance The
UK (http://www.enhancetheuk.org), a charity that
when it happens to you, you works to promote disability awareness training in
know it the workplace, he says.

Now hes had a chance to step back and


For a while Gary had been able to hide his assess what happened to him, Gary says hes
condition, but as it progressed he found he ideally placed to help employers provide better
couldnt any longer. He had to ask for specially working conditions for people who have
adapted headphones to help him hear better. disabilities but can still contribute and still want
The company obliged but made him feel awful to work. Theres a lot of ignorance out there. It all
about it, saying: You do realise these cost 100! stems from a lack of communication. At my last
He felt as if he was being an awkward employee job, I was openly left out of conversations and
when all he needed was a slight adaptation to ignored which makes it very difcult to do your
help him do the job he was very good at. job effectively.
Living with Disability 141
>> Essentials....

Shue Yin Lo is a solicitor who specialises in


employment law with a particular focus on
workplace discrimination. She explains that the
law provides employees with protection from an
employer refusing to pay a bonus due to
someones disability, penalising someone for
taking disability-related sick leave and failing
to make reasonable adjustments. These might
include issues like altering the disabled
employees hours of work and/or location of work
in accordance with medical advice.
Employers may also have a duty to make
changes to work premises.

Disability is dened as a physical or mental The trades union Unison has twice taken the fees
impairment and that impairment has a issue to court on the basis that its
substantial and long term adverse effect on the discriminatory in itself but it failed to win. It may
individuals ability to carry out day-to-day however make another attempt if it can nd
activities. The problem, says Ms Lo, is that sufcient evidence that the fees themselves
most people fail to be classied in this way as it discriminate against people with disabilities. You
is so tightly dened: For example what exactly can apply for fee remission if you have no savings
constitutes substantial and adverse effect? or are on benets but only 51 per cent of fee
remission applications are accepted.
Depression may be classied as a disability as
its a mental impairment, she adds. However, if The fees were brought in to stop vexatious
you are treated very badly at work, and you are claims against employers but the unintended
stressed as a result, then thats not necessarily a consequence of this has been that many people
disability by itself. You have to satisfy the now feel unable to bring an action when they
denition to be protected by employment law. might very well have a case.

Making a case However, if you have a strong case, the act of


starting the process can be enough to jog an
There are many hurdles to overcome before employer into either taking action or agreeing on
you can bring a case of discrimination against a severance package. Many cases are settled
an employer. Now that it costs 1200 to take out of court and with these come a condentiality
a case to an employment tribunal, cases have agreement which means neither side can
decreased by 64 per cent, says Ms Lo. Add to discuss it. That makes it difcult to know how
this the removal of legal aid and its clear that much disability discrimination there is in the
its become incredibly hard to sue an employer workplace.
successfully.
Garys case, for example, may seem to be a
Many solicitors will now work on a no win/no fee clear cut indication of discrimination due to his
basis but this means theyll only take on cases disability, but it might have been difcult to prove
they think they have a very good chance of to a tribunal especially as his HR manager
winning. If youre in a trades union, you could get insisted it was his word against others.
support there with the fees and legal advice Also in a work environment where banter is the
but many people arent in a union, or work for a norm, the line between banter and bullying is a
small company where unions arent recognised. thin one and incredibly subjective.

142 Living with Disability


Taking steps on how to facilitate employment and workplace
environments for people with disabilities.

That said, there are steps can you take if you There are a lot of good
think youre facing discrimination at work due to
a disability. First you must talk to your
employers who want to
immediate manager. They may not be aware you support people with disabilities
have a disability. There may also be a grievance
procedure you can instigate as your employer
because they often make the
may be in breach of employer policy on bullying best employees
and equal opportunities. Most large rms have
such policies in place now. She comments:There are a lot of good
employers who want to support people with
Smaller employers may not have clear disabilities. This is because they often make
procedures or an HR department but they will excellent employees. They know what they need
usually have an outsourced company or and can communicate it to employers. And in
individual that provides this service. Whatever my experience, despite perhaps general views
size company, you have a right to insist on a to the contrary, they have the best attendance
face-to-face meeting with your supervisor or record.
line manager and you also have the right to take
either another member of staff with you for Ive worked with people who have
support or a trades union representative and profound disabilities yet hold down fulltime
that applies even if your workplace doesnt jobs, she adds. It benets both sides to be able
recognise trades unions. If youre unhappy with to support everyone in the workplace because
the outcome you can appeal. if you dont, youre potentially losing very good
employees.
The next step is to go to the conciliation service
ACAS as an employee must attempt to solve A lot of this is common sense, getting
an issue rst without going to court. ACAS will employers to sit down with people and see
provide a questionnaire for the employer to what support they need, then trying to provide
complete. Although there is now no legal it. You can get good quality employees as a
requirement for an employer to do so, if it goes to result.
tribunal, failing to do this may go against them so
its in their interests to comply. Only Understanding
after these stages have been completed can you your legal
make a claim at an employment tribunal. You
have to act within three months of the employment rights
issues arising.
Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have a
Employer support duty to ensure disabled people are not placed at
a signicant disadvantage at a job interview or at
Kate Knapton is an associate solicitor who work. However this Act only applies in England
specialises in employment law and works for and Wales.
the employer side as well as the claimant.
She is a former HR manager and member There is different legislation in Scotland, and in
of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Northern Ireland the Disability Discrimination Act
Development, giving her perspective from 1995 is the relevant piece of legislation as the
both sides. She also advises companies Equality Act has not yet been adopted there.

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