Does an employee have to disclose a disability?

People looking at PC screens

Disclosing a disability can be a hard decision for an employee to make. They may be afraid of being perceived in a different way by the employer or they might not want the extra attention. Whatever their reasons, an employee doesn’t legally have to reveal this information to their employer.

As an employer, you should make sure that all of your staff are happy and comfortable, regardless of whether they have a disability or not. It’s your responsibility to ensure that your staff have a reasonable workspace, an adjustable chair and the correct equipment, such as a wrist rest for the keyboard and mouse.

It is unfair to ask a potential employee in an interview whether they have a disability. They may not want to disclose it and, if you don’t offer them the job, you could be seen as discriminatory. The employee should be able to get the job no matter what their health situation is.

If the employee hasn’t disclosed a disability, the employer cannot be held responsible for failing to make reasonable adjustments to the working environment.

Under the Equality Act 2010 , you’re considered disabled if you have a ‘physical or mental impairment and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’.
What is considered to be a disability?

Some conditions are automatically treated as a disability, including the following:

  • Cancer
  • A visual impairment (certified blind, sight impaired or partially sighted)
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • HIV
  • A severe long-term disfigurement, such as facial scarring or a skin disease
Under the Equality Act of 2010 (Disability) Regulations, the below are not considered impairments:
  • A tendency to set fires or steal
  • Exhibitionism
  • Voyeurism
  • Tattoos or piercings
  • Hay fever
  • Addiction to alcohol, nicotine or other substances

How to accommodate disabled employees

If your employee has chosen to disclose their disability, there are certain steps that you need to take to make sure their work environment is adequate, depending on their disability.

Don’t be afraid to ask them what they struggle with. They know their disability better than anyone else and will be able to tell you what they find difficult and may even suggest ways to help. For example, they may find that their desk is too high for their wheelchair. You could swap their desk for a lower one, making it easier for the employee to work. They may struggle to read small text on a screen, so you could download a Screen Magnification tool so they aren’t straining their eyes as much.

You could allow the employee more flexible working hours and, where possible, they could work from home. Most disabilities come with good and bad days, and your employee might experience flare-ups. You could allow them to work from home on bad days and come into work when they feel up to it.

They may need additional time off for regular doctors’ or hospital appointments. This should be agreed upon between you and the employee in advance.

Above all, your employee should feel like you are showing support instead of making them feel like their disability is a burden.

How to deal with discrimination at work

It can be hard to deal with discrimination at work as an employer. You may not be aware that discrimination is taking place as it can be hard to see – this makes it difficult to stop because you only have your employee’s word to go on. However, discrimination is illegal and should be treated seriously.

There are lots of ways in which people can discriminate. These include:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • Gender

A worker has a right to make a claim if they feel they have experienced unlawful descrimination in the workplace. Alternatively, they may tell you in person. It’s up to you to decide what steps need to be taken next. You may decide to issue the individual at fault with a warning or you may choose to suspend them without pay for a given amount of time. You could even provide them with equality training to ensure they understand what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour in the workplace.

If you’ve investigated the allegation and found that there was no unlawful discrimination, then working relationships may become strained. It could be helpful to find a way in which everyone can work together, for example, a team member may ask to be put on a different shift. You could also organise a team building day.

You should continue to monitor the situation to ensure that no further discrimination allegations are made.

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