Tab Ahmad is the founder and CEO of EmployAbility, a not-for-profit organisation that supports neurodiverse and disabled students and graduates into employment, as well as providing ongoing support once in employment. She kindly gave some of her time to share some key insights for the blog.
It’s about ‘adjustments’, not ‘reasonable adjustments’
One topic that Tab is very passionate about is that it has become common for employers to use the legal term ‘reasonable adjustments’ in everyday conversation, such as asking disabled applicants ‘Do you have any reasonable adjustments?’ This, she says, can be off-putting for a student who may not be sure if their current adjustments are ‘reasonable’ or if they’re appropriate for the workplace. In reality, the purpose of the law is to protect the needs and rights of the individual, whilst balancing this against the duty placed on employers, in a way that is fair, but not unduly onerous. In practice, the vast majority of adjustments that applicants request are likely to be considered reasonable, taking into account the facts and circumstances.
Tab also advises that you do not need to go into detail about your disability or why you need the adjustments – simply saying something like ‘I have a condition which requires an adjustment of…’ is perfectly fine.
You do not need to share proof
Tab further points out that under section 60 of the Equality Act it’s unlawful for employers to ask if someone has a disability or health condition, or to ask information about any such condition. There are some limited exceptions to this ban on asking questions, the most commonly used of which is the right to ask whether a candidate requires adjustments during any stage of the recruitment process. She says, “this exception is to be interpreted strictly, and doesn’t extend to asking further questions about the underlying disability or health condition.’ She says that sometimes this leads to employers or recruiters, for example, asking dyslexic applicants for their educational psychologist’s report from university in order for the recruiter to work out what adjustments they should give. However, a report about the adjustments required for higher education doesn’t necessarily provide useful or relevant information for the recruitment process.
Further, she points out that ‘it’s also potentially a breach of section 60 of the Equality Act for an employer to ask an applicant for medical evidence of their disability. One of the exceptions to the section 60 ban on asking questions, is where an employer has put in place a positive action scheme. In that case, the legislation specifically allows for the employer to ask additional questions of the candidates in order to establish their disability. The exception for asking whether any adjustments are required contains no such allowance.’
Moreover, she says that requiring candidates to provide medical proof of their disability creates an additional barrier in the application process, insofar as the applicant may need to see their GP in order to ask for such a report, which they may also have to pay for. This can result in a candidate missing an application deadline. Further, requesting sight of highly sensitive medical information, for what is usually a straightforward adjustment to access one stage of a multi-staged recruitment process, is potentially disproportionate to the legal obligation it aims to fulfil – in breach of GDPR, as well as the spirit of the Equality Act. Finally, she asserts that such requests tend to be made for certain disabilities but not others, namely neurodiverse conditions and mental health, effectively reinforcing damaging stereotypes around non-visible disabilities.
Sharing about your disability is a personal choice
Tab also spoke about how talking to an employer about your disability(s) is a personal choice – while there is some well-intentioned advice suggesting that you should share your disability with an employer, in reality this is down to you, and your personal choice. If you feel that it would be advantageous to (for example, talk about your disability to demonstrate a competency), then you can do. Alternatively, if you would rather keep it private, that’s okay too – you are not being dishonest in any way. It’s up to each individual to decide what they are comfortable with sharing.
- Christian Jameson-Warren