HR Update – Defining Disability

Ben McFeely

Ben McFeely

Do you have disabled staff in your workforce? Unsure? It is an important question, and one that can be very easy to get wrong.

If your business does employ disabled staff, you must ensure you comply with their enhanced rights created by the Equality Act 2010. As well as ensuring equal treatment, you must make any reasonable adjustments necessary to remove any disadvantage suffered by disabled staff.

But how do you know if staff are disabled? In some cases it is a difficult question.

The Equality Act defines disability, it says a disability is:

“A physical or mental impairment, which has a substantial, adverse and long term impact on the individuals’ ability to carry out their normal day-to-day activities”.

That definition has been debated countless times by the employment courts, with each aspect of the definition having its time in the spotlight. The latest case in this area asked the question what amounts to “normal day-to-day activities”.

In Banaszczyk v Booker, the court found that warehouse operations involving the lifting and moving of cases of up to 25kg were “normal day-to-day activities”. The court took guidance from previous European case law that had said barriers hindering an employee’s “full participation in working life” should be removed. They also considered that large numbers of people carried out activities of this kind across a range of occupations, in particular in warehousing and distribution, sufficient to satisfy the word “normal”.

Employers should therefore be cautious when the issue of disability arises in the workforce. The whole definition of disability needs to be considered but, when considering what amounts to “normal day-to-day activities”, employers must note that this is likely to be construed broadly by the courts and will include work-related activities, at least where these are general activities common across a number of occupations.