What qualifies as a disability?

The numbers of disabled people employed in the UK are growing.

More and more of those with disabilities covered under the Equality Act 2010 are enjoying the freedom and independence associated with gainful employment.

Along with this, more and more people—and employers—need to be sure of exactly what medical conditions qualify for disability. It can be a little confusing—are addicts disabled? Is cancer classed as a disability?

Disability is a protected characteristic, after all. It’s against the law for an employer to discriminate against you if you’re disabled. Likewise, if you’re an employer, you need to have a good knowledge of your responsibilities. You need to make reasonable adjustments in order to prevent disabled people in your workforce from experiencing disadvantage.

 

What is classed as a disability?

According to Scope, more than 3.7 million disabled people are employed in the UK. But what is classed as a disability at work?

Should you be asking ‘am I classed as disabled?’ we have fairly tight, unambiguous legislation in place to define that. The Equality Act 2010 states that:

“A person (P) has a disability if—

(a) P has a physical or mental impairment, and

(b) the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on P's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.”

You could be under a lot of stress, worrying constantly about your work—that’s an impairment, especially if it genuinely gets in the way of your ability to work or enjoy life. Mental health is equally important to physical health in terms of disability.

But there are a few physical ailments that are automatically classed as a disability:

  • Visual impairments—if you’re certified blind, sight impaired, or partially sighted, then you’re covered
  • Cancer—this includes pre-cancerous growths that require surgery to remove
  • HIV—you don’t need to display symptoms, just being infected is enough
  • A severe disfigurement, like a skin disease or scarring
  • Multiple sclerosis

As well as this, there are some impairments, which are excluded completely, and are not considered a disability under the Equality Act:

  • Hayfever
  • Tattoos and body piercing
  • Certain antisocial disorders—a tendency to set fire to things, voyeurism and exhibitionism, physical or sexual abusiveness
  • Addictions to substances—unless the addiction was caused by a medical prescription

Remember, if you’re classed as disabled, you enjoy protection against discrimination in:

  • Recruitment and selection
  • Pay, terms and conditions
  • Sickness absence
  • Training and development
  • Promotion
  • Dismissal
  • Redundancy

If you think you’re being discriminated against in the workplace, plenty of guidance and advice is available.

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