Organisations have particular duties they must fulfil under the Equality Act 2010.
Employers, education providers, transport providers, service providers, public authorities, landlords and associations are required to make reasonable adjustments to reduce disadvantage or remove barriers that disabled people face. The term ‘reasonable adjustments’ covers a wide range of things that can be put in place, for example flexible working arrangements, alterations to the physical environment, alternative format materials and equipment. If the adjustments required are very impractical, they are not considered reasonable. For example, an employer might be expected to install appropriate accessible toilet facilities, but would not be expected to hire a personal assistant to assist someone to use those facilities. A disabled person cannot be asked to pay anything towards the cost of their reasonable adjustment.
The Act makes some allowances for the fact that organisations might not know about someone’s disability or that a reasonable adjustment is needed. However if an organisation can be reasonably expected to know that people who might work for it or use its services will need an adjustment, it is expected to make it. This is especially the case in the Public Sector as a result of the Public Sector Equality Duty.
Public Sector Equality Duty
Any organisation which is exercising a public function must comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty from April 2011. This can include Voluntary and Private Sector organisations who provide public services. The test of whether a service is a public function is generally to ask whether a public authority would have to provide it. So, for example, a charity running a care home with public funding on behalf of the local authority might be required to comply with the Duty, but a befriending project probably would not. This Duty replaces the three previous Public Sector Duties on race, gender and disability and applies to all of the protected characteristics except marriage and civil partnership. Even if the Duty does not apply to your organisation, it might affect what Public Sector funders expect from you. Always check the equalities implications of grants, service delivery agreements, tenders or contracts.
The main provisions of the general duty state that organisations must:
- eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other
conduct that is prohibited by or under the Act
- advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant
protected characteristic and persons who do not share it
- foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected
characteristic and persons who do not share it
The Act details a number of ways in which equality of opportunity should be advanced, for example taking steps to reduce or remove disadvantage linked to a protected characteristic, taking steps to meet people’s needs and promoting participation in public life (i.e. in public decision making, such as joining a Board of Management or standing in an election for political office).
In fostering good relations, organisations are expected to consider how to tackle prejudice and promote understanding through the work they do.
The Duty recognises that the steps needed to meet disabled people’s needs may be different, and it is permitted to treat people more favourably under the Duty but only where this would not be a breach of the act. Reasonable adjustments are the most common way in which that might be done; there is relatively little leeway for more favourable treatment which is permitted in the Act. Another example would include more favourable treatment of a pregnant woman connected to her pregnancy.
Further specific duties will be announced for Scotland in 2012.