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Equality law and disability discrimination

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Equality law and disability discrimination

The Equality Act 2010 came into effect in October 2010. It replaced nine previous laws that aimed to protect people against discrimination, including the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA).

 In terms of employment, there are different types of disability discrimination. People with epilepsy are covered by the Equality Act, even if their seizures are controlled, or they do not consider themselves to be ‘disabled’.

What is a disability?

Someone has a disability if they have:

a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities

Equality Act 2010

Here, ‘substantial’ means it is difficult and time-consuming to do activities compared to someone without a disability, and ‘long-term’ means at least 12 months. ‘Day-to-day activities’ include being able to get around, hear, see, remember and concentrate.

Epilepsy is a physical, long-term condition and people with epilepsy are protected under the Equality Act, even if their seizures are controlled or if they don’t consider themselves to be ‘disabled’.

Types of disability discrimination

The Equality Act protects people from several different types of disability discrimination, in terms of employment. Volunteer (unpaid) work is not covered by the Equality Act 2010.

Direct discrimination

It is illegal for an employer to treat someone with a disability differently from someone without a disability, without a justifiable reason. Direct discrimination includes:

  • Perceived discrimination is where someone is treated unfairly because it is assumed that they have a disability, and that this affects their ability to carry out day-to-day activities – for example, making an assumption without any basis that a person’s epilepsy will mean they can’t do a job as well as someone without epilepsy.
  • Associative discrimination is where someone is treated unfairly because they are connected to someone else with a disability – for example, not promoting someone just because they have a child with a disability.
  • Harassment is being treated differently because of a disability, in a way that is humiliating or offensive and can’t be justified.

Indirect discrimination

This is treating everyone the same, in such a way that it puts someone with a disability at a disadvantage. For example, a rule that ‘everyone must use the stairs’ is unfair for people who use wheelchairs. To treat all employees equally, employers may need to treat someone with a disability differently from someone without a disability.

Discrimination arising from disability

This is treating someone unfairly because of something connected with their disability – for example, if someone with a visual impairment is told that they can’t bring their guide dog to work, without a justifiable reason.

Failure to make reasonable adjustments

Reasonable adjustments are changes that employers are expected to consider making so that a person with a disability is not put at a disadvantage. For example, time off work for medical appointments could be recorded separately from sick leave. If an employer refuses to do this without a justifiable reason, their employee is at a disadvantage.


This is treating someone unfairly because they have complained about any type of discrimination – this can be complaining on their own behalf or on behalf of someone else.

See also health and safety law and how it relates to epilepsy.

Information produced: March 2017

Work and employment

Having epilepsy does not necessarily stop someone from doing the job they want, but there are some issues which can affect them at work. Whether someone’s epilepsy affects their work depends on whether they have seizures, what their seizures are like and how often these happen.

Sport and leisure

To live full and active lives, and look after our physical and emotional wellbeing, we all need time to rest, relax and exercise. How we spend our leisure time is important and individual to us all, whether or not we have epilepsy.

Employment leaflet

Want to know more?

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Information produced: March 2017