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How to Know If You're Experiencing Disability Discrimination in the Workplace (and What to Do Next)

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If you have a disability or health condition, you may see and hear about employment discrimination a lot. Maybe you’re going through it now and you are not sure what to do or where you can go for help. I am hoping that I am able to help provide you with an answer to your questions about if you’re experiencing discrimination and what you can do about it. This is not intended as legal advice by any means — but instead as guidance that may help you put steps in place after you experience disability discrimination in your workplace.

Protected Classes

Protected classes are groups that may not be discriminated against under the law. In the United Kingdom, where I live, there are currently nine protected classes, and these are protected under the 2010 Equality Act. If you live in the U.K., your workplace legally cannot use these identities against you. Many other countries and regions have their own protected class laws as well. These laws may cover traits like race, sexual orientation, sex, marital status, religion, and of course, disability.

Types of Discrimination Against People With Disabilities

There are two main types of discrimination that people with disabilities experience in the workplace: direct discrimination and indirect discrimination. Direct discrimination is usually a direct attack on or refusal to accommodate someone in a protected class. For people with disabilities, this discrimination may look like being told you cannot receive a promotion because of your health condition or being told that you “should” be able to work without the reasonable accommodations you need in the workplace.

Indirect discrimination is less obvious and may even be unintentional, but it still affects people in protected classes. Telling a person with a disability that they’re a “good worker” for someone with a disability or enforcing dress code policies that may be difficult for people with disabilities — like requiring all women to wear heels — are just a couple of the ways people with disabilities experience discrimination in the workplace.

What You Can Do If You Face Disability Discrimination

Unions may help people with disabilities access fair treatment in the workplace. I myself am a union workplace, equalities and learning representative for a union. Workplace unions try to make the working world a fair place for both employees and managers alike.

Union workplace representatives are provided training for tackling difficult situations in the workplace, and a good union representative will do anything in their power to try to improve workplace conditions. Being part of a union can help you resolve workplace problems and receive benefits outside of work.

Usually a workplace will have a policy called a “recognition agreement” that may allow unions to be more involved in the workplace. As with every formal process, you have the right to be represented by someone who will follow the correct procedures and address major concerns like discrimination. This doesn’t mean to say that if your workplace doesn’t recognize any union, you’re out of luck. Unions become recognized over time, and being represented is your right. If you’re unsure if there are any recognized unions at your workplace, ask your colleagues or your company’s human resources department.

There are other ways to decrease and resolve workplace discrimination too. If you are experiencing disability discrimination in the workplace, take these steps:

Informal resolution involves discussing the discriminatory act with the person who discriminated against you with your manager. Sometimes people don’t realize that their actions are discriminatory or that they’ve made you uncomfortable. I would personally raise concerns in an email and request a meeting about the discrimination so that the company knows what is happening.

Formal resolution often comes after you’ve tried to address the discrimination against you informally, especially if the actions you’ve taken haven’t worked and the discrimination is still happening, Formal resolution may sometimes require proof that you have tried approaching the situation informally. This “formal grievance” usually requires that you contact your human resources or personnel department. The formal resolution process may also include mediation — speaking to both parties to find out what has happened and trying to nurture a working relationship that doesn’t involve bullying or discrimination.

Further resolution may follow formal resolution if you have done the above, but the discrimination against you still continues. In the U.K., there are services such as ACAS that can help you with further resolution. These services are usually a lot more thorough and can help you resolve the problems you’re facing.

If these services can’t help you resolve workplace discrimination, they will often provide a certificate that you can take to a tribunal. Workplace tribunals are a court that will hear your case and your workplace’s side of the story and make a final decision about next steps. If you can, try every other possible way to resolve employment discrimination before you go to a workplace tribunal.

I hope this article helps you, especially if you’re experiencing workplace discrimination. Whether you have autism like I do, a mental health condition, or a disability, if you’re experiencing workplace discrimination, you deserve to get it resolved. I am also more than willing to discuss these topics with you and help you if I can.

Getty image by Luis Alvarez.

Originally published: March 7, 2022
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