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Equality Act - different types of disability discrimination

This information about the Equality Act applies to people who live in England Scotland and Wales. If you live in Northern Ireland, see our information about the Disability Discrimination Act.

If you are looking for information about disability discrimination in another country, please contact your local epilepsy organisation.

Direct discrimination

This happens when:

  • Somebody treats you less well than somebody else and
  • The treatment is because you have epilepsy or care for someone with epilepsy

Examples of direct discrimination:

A landlord will not rent a flat to you because you have epilepsy. They will rent the flat to someone else who doesn’t have epilepsy.

A taxi driver refuses to give you a lift because you have epilepsy. Your friend doesn’t have epilepsy and the taxi driver will take him.

A beauty salon refuses to give you a massage because you have epilepsy.

Discrimination by association

This protects your family and friends from direct discrimination because you have epilepsy.

An example of discrimination by association:

A candidate who has been told she is getting a job is suddenly deselected after revealing that her son has epilepsy and has complicated care arrangements. The withdrawal of the job offer could amount to discrimination because of her association with a disabled person (disability being a protected characteristic).

Indirect discrimination

This happens when:

  • Having epilepsy means you are put at a disadvantage to other people because of some general rules or practices that apply to everyone and
  • There isn’t a fair explanation for that rule or practice

Examples of indirect discrimination:

An employer will only accept online job applications. Because of your photosensitive epilepsy, you have never learned to use a computer. Unless the employer offers you an alternative way of making your application, this could be indirect discrimination.

A nightclub will only accept a driving licence as a form of proof of age. This discriminates against you if you don’t have a driving licence because of your epilepsy.

Discrimination arising from a disability

This happens when:

  • Somebody treats you unfavourably and
  • The treatment is because of something arising from your epilepsy and
  • They knew, or should have known, that you had the condition and
  • They can’t give a fair reason for the unfair treatment

There is no need to compare the way that someone treats you with the way they treat somebody who doesn’t have epilepsy.

Examples of discrimination arising from disability:

You have a long absence from work because of your epilepsy. Your employer dismisses you because of that absence, even though they could have covered your work duties during your absence. This will be discrimination unless your employer can show that dismissing you was justified.

A restaurant owner refuses to serve you because they fear that it will upset the other customers if you have a seizure.

A college refuses to admit you because you have epilepsy. They think that if you have a seizure it will disrupt lessons.

Failure to make a reasonable adjustment

Sometimes, people or organisations may need to make a reasonable adjustment. This is to make sure that you are not put at a substantial disadvantage to other people, just because you have epilepsy. Failure to make this adjustment could be illegal under the Equality Act. The person or organisation that has the duty to make the adjustment is not allowed to pass on any cost to you.

Reasonable adjustments can include:

  • Making changes to a rule, requirement or practice
  • Making changes to buildings or premises
  • Providing equipment that will help you

Examples of reasonable adjustment:

A teacher gives you written lesson notes because you had a seizure during a lesson.

A restaurant gives you a table where there is less risk of injury if you had a seizure. (For example, at the edge of a room, out of the path of the people serving food.)

An employer allows you to start and finish work later than other employees, if you usually have seizures first thing in the morning. This is provided it fits in with their working practices.

Harassment

This happens when somebody behaves towards you in a way you don’t want, such as taunting or bullying, and the behaviour has the purpose or effect of:

  • Violating your dignity (failing to treat you in a respectful way) or
  • Creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you

Your employer has a duty to protect you from harassment by the people you work with. If your colleagues bully you because of your epilepsy, your employer may be considered responsible for this.

The Equality Act also protects your family and friends when they are at work or using services. They must not be harassed or treated unfairly because you have epilepsy.

An example of harassment:

Your son has epilepsy and you take him to see an epilepsy specialist during work hours. Your colleagues make abusive and insulting comments about you and your son, because his epilepsy has caused you to have time off work.

Victimisation

This is when:

  • Somebody treats you less well than other people, because you have complained, or intend to complain about disability discrimination or harassment or
  • They treat you less well because you have helped someone else to complain about disability discrimination or harassment

An example of victimisation:

You are not invited to office social events because you supported a colleague when they complained about discrimination at work.

Can a policy that discriminates ever be justified?

There has to be a good reason for a policy that discriminates against someone to be justified, for example to protect the health and safety of other people. And the reason has to carry more weight than the unfavourable treatment, and must be the only way of achieving the same aim.  If health and safety reasons are given, they must be based on fact, rather than assumptions. 

If you would like to see this information with references, visit the Advice and Information references section of our website. If you are unable to access the internet, please contact our Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone on 0808 800 5050.

Code: 
F101.02

Epilepsy Action would like to thank Carl Graham, solicitor and partner in UK law firm DWF LLP for reviewing this information.

Carl Graham has declared no conflict of interest.

This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.

  • Updated May 2016
    To be reviewed May 2019

Comments: read the 15 comments or add yours

Comments

I have epilepsy which is currently looking far too happy making me have seizures every 2 week. Had one in 2015 that ended my voluntary job, had one a couple of mondays back full blown tonic clonic as usual then on friday I had another seizure. Tonic clonic seizure again. He doesn't want me volunteering at the place I loved because I have epilepsy, will he accept he is discriminating? Nooooo.

Submitted by Danielle on

Hi Danielle

That sounds like a  tough situation. You may be covered by the Equality Act. Have they done a risk assessment for you? They would have to justify any risks they identified and think about any possible reasonable adjustments. It is possible they are discriminating against you. You could have a look at our information and maybe ring the Equality Advisory Support Service to check this out with them. Their phone number is 0808 800 0082.

Or maybe you could find a more friendly charity shop to volunteer in?

If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact us again, either by email or the Epilepsy Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050.

Regards

Cherry  

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

My voluntary job was at the one place I'd loved and still love since I was 8 years old. I used to visit every weekend then in 2011 I got my dream voluntary job there. That obviously lasted til october 2015 when I had that seizure. Who robs people of their dreams, who hates people with epilepsy? He does. Not the first time he has done something like this to me. The first time he told me don't come this week because you have a visual impairment and one of the staff I'd known since I was a child wasn't in. So what, I know that place better than him. I to,d him before I even started there I have epilepsy so it's not like he didn't know. Before the place reopened to the public I said to him I have epilepsy my seizures are tonic clonics. He keeps going on about doing a risk assessment but has he actually bothered to do one, no he hasn't. My bf volunteered there too, he has epilepsy and his seizures weren't/aren't as controlled as mine yet he is still allowed to volunteer there, he in other words my bf told me he isn't going back til I'm allowed back because him saying he can still volunteer but I can't isn't being fair. Maybe it's just me the boss hates.

Submitted by Danielle on

I had a tonic-clonic in March-2016 - only the 2nd in my life - the first was in 2013.
Occupational Health agreed to let me work from home typically 4 days /week.
That worked well but during that time I was transferred to "foisted on to" a different team simply for administrative purposes - as my work had little association with that team's work.
I got my driving licence back but they subsequently made me redundant by putting me in a "pool of one" when a small aspect of the teams work disappeared.
Now - the "pool of one" justification is a legal argument which I dont intend to discuss here.
My question/issue was that I was placed in that team while the "reasonable adjustments" to my work were in force (i.e working from home): while those adjustments were in place was it reasonable to transfer me into a such an exposed position. If not, wasn't that discriminatory? "We cant get rid of him now, we'll wait until he is better" is how I would summaris their actions/deeds.

Submitted by Julian on

Hi Julian 

Thank you for your comment.

I’m sorry to hear about your situation. Being make redundant is a stressful and difficult time.

As advisors on epilepsy, we have general knowledge about epilepsy, work and discrimination but we don’t have the knowledge you need regarding your redundancy situation.

If you haven’t already, it may be best to contact ACAS. ACAS offer free advice about employment rights. Their telephone number is 0300 123 1100. You could also contact the Equality Advisory and Support services regarding the disability discrimination aspect. Their helpline is 0808 800 0082

Regards

Diane

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

I've just started a new job and having had a paper based occupational health assessment by a GP. I've been told I cannot work alone - this means for example not being able to take a train to a meeting, or be alone in the office. I have not had a single seizure since 1997! My condition is medically controlled (I drive to work every day etc). This seems to me to be very clearly discrimination. It will most certainly affect my ability to do my job which includes a fair bit of external out of office work and would set me at a disadvantage to others. I would appreciate any advice on how to tackle this, to nip it in the bud. Thanks

Submitted by Paul on

Dear Paul

It’s difficult to understand how the occupational health assessment has led to this decision.

I wonder if they have used some sort of blanket guideline instead of looking at your individual situation.

Many companies use the driving regulation of 12 months seizure free as a guide to allow people to lone work.

If you haven’t already, it would be best to talk to you employer and ask for a reassessment. Please feel free to share our information on risk assessments with them.

If your employer would like to contact us, we can give them our opinion on lone working.

For your information once you have been offered a job, you don’t automatically have to tell your employer about your epilepsy. This is as long as you don’t believe it will affect your ability to do your job safely and effectively. This could be, for example, if your epilepsy is well controlled.

If your employer isnt willing to support you with this, it may be helpful to contact ACAS. ACAS aims to improve organisations and working life through better employment relations. They offer free advice about employment rights.

It would be good to hear how things go. If that’s ok with you, you can email me at helpline@epilepsy.org.uk.

Also please contact us again if we can be of further help. You can contact the helpline team directly either by email helpline@epilepsy.org.uk or phone the Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050. Our helpline is open Monday to Friday, 8.30am until 5.30pm.

Regards

Diane

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by Diane-Epilepsy ... on

Dear Diane,
Thank you for taking the time to draft such a helpful response. I have been able to speak to the Doctor who undertook the assessment and wrote the report recommending no lone working, drawing attention to the information you provided. In the light of this he has agreed to write again to the HR team to clarify what lone working in my context would mean. He will, he tells me, specifically note that I can travel, and be in the office when others are not present. This suggestes to me that he saw the word 'Epilepsy' and had a knee jerk reaction rather than read the full details provided to him.
Fingers crossed this letter of 'clarification' should do the trick. It is useful to know that it is not a requirement to disclose if ones Epilepsy is controlled etc. Next time I think'll keep mum!
So, a big thank you for your support. It is much appreciated.
Best wishes
Paul

Submitted by Paul on

Dear Paul

Thank you for updating me. This sounds very positive. Hope it all goes well.

If you don’t mind, can I copy your comment on to our feedback webpage?  We use this information to help when we apply for funding to keep our services going. We can keep it anonymous. Or if you would be happy for us to contact you in the future about your comments, please let me know.

Thanks

Diane

Submitted by Diane-Epilepsy ... on

I am now 29 but started having seizures at school from of 14, when i got diagnosed with epilepsy the school offered no support, there was stairs which i came close to falling down due to seizures, they didn't understand when i had medical appointments and when i turned up for gcses they sent me home and phoned my dad saying i should not turn up anymore, have i a case against them? i left school with no confidence, friends and gcses because the school did not want to help and i basically got chucked out early. (there is more information about how they treated me, but would want to know if i have a case)

Submitted by katie wilson on

Dear Katie

It sounds like you had a difficult time with your school. 

We don’t know if you could take action after such a long time. May we suggest you contact a welfare rights organisation such as Citizen Advice or Equality and Human Rights Commission who should know if this is possible or not?

Do you think it may help to talk to others with epilepsy? From our experience, in most case people find it helpful to talk to or contact people who understand what they have experienced or are going through now. If you think this could help, you may find some of our services helpful. Such as our local groups, including coffee & chats, our forum4e online community, facebook and twitter.

Regards

Diane

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

hi guys,
I ‘ve been having siezures for almost a year now, and in my previous job ( customer advisor) I informed my manager about that in the second day and I had to take some days off for my hospital appointments and consultations, And when I finally was told that I have epilepsy I informed them about this and I felt like they didnt like me in that office since the first week ( due to my religion becuI refused to join them in a pub on the 1st week) and then after explaining that I suffer from epls I asked the manager to make some adjustments like changing the shift she seemed quite unhappy with that and she understood that she will not be able to leave me on the office alone while that’s what she hired me for however she did apply those changes but for one week only , she never treated me like the rest of the team especially when giving feedbacks she always try to add you are not knowledgeable while shouting next to everyone I reported that I was unhappy with the way feedback was given and I got fired a week later as an excuse she said because I don’t know their products enough after one month ( the trial period is 3 months and herself said that she wasn’t expecting me to know them by the first month days earlier + she said because I wasn’t taking calls whilst she never asked me to start doing it I felt so down that day so I was just yes to escape since I was almost crying) and I truly believe that She fired me due to my religion or more my ethnicity and for my disability because she wasn’t ready at all to make adjustments and she was always complaining about me taking those days off I give the small book you have for epilepsy and employment and she never had a look at it which shows her intentions and after she fired me with a month I realised from her email that she was planning to do so way earlier around the time I informed her about my epilepsy because she thought I worked from (1/08-31/08) while I actually started ln 24/07 so she said I took all my payment from the 1-31 this shows her intention and why she gave only a week notice ,
I really want to make a claim about this discrimination not for any personal matters but I just want the gov to know which kind of employers are out there , the only matter is that I do no have a proof.

If you could advise on this case I will really appreciate that

Kind Regards

Submitted by Amina maachou on

Dear Amina

It sounds like you’ve had a difficult time with your previous employer.

There are different types of disability discrimination including direct discrimination from a disability, hassment & victimisation. For this reason it would be best to contact an employments rights organisation to see if you may have been treated unfairly. You could contact ACAS, your local Citizen’s or the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

You need to do it as soon as possible, as there are strict time limits for bringing cases to Employment Tribunals and courts.

If you haven’t already you may wish to view our information on Care plans, risk assessments and reasonable adjustments in the workplace.

If you think we could be of further help, please do contact our helpline team directly. You can either email helpline@epilepsy.org.uk or phone the Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050. 

Regards

Diane

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

Direct discrimination because of disability is a relatively easy concept to grasp and visualise in one’s mind. Discrimination arising from disability less so, especially when the alleged causal link to the disability is further up the causative chain. If a disabled person is off work frequently on sick leave due to their disability, is subsequently dismissed for their poor sickness record and the days taken into consideration are those related to those taken due to their disability we can see how a claim could be framed as discrimination arising from disability. A harder concept to grasp is where an employee used offensive language at work because they were unhappy with a decision taken by their employer that impacted on their ability to attend a function arranged by their employer due to their disability. In this case it was found that had it not been for the arrangement made by the employer that impacted unfavourably on the disabled employee he would have had no need to use the offensive language.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/discrimination-arising-from-disability-ry...

Submitted by Ryan Clement on

In the recent EAT (sitting in Edinburgh) case of Francis Mutombo-Mpenia v Angard Staffing Solutions Ltd the Claimant suffered from essential hypertension (impairment) and, therefore, claimed to be a disabled person under the Act.  There was no dispute that he suffered from the alleged impairment but he failed to adduce evidence of its adverse effect on his normal day to day activities let alone whether such were substantial and long-term. Therefore, he failed to discharge the burden of proof that he was a disabled person as defined under the Act.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/oops-dont-forget-your-normal-day-activiti...

Submitted by Ryan Clement on

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