Know Your Disability Rights; Meeting the Needs of Disabled Workers Can Be Problematic but Is Essential, Says DUNCAN MURRAY of the Law Society

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Q:I OWN and run a small manufacturing business with 10 employees.

One of my employees has recently been involved in a car accident and is returning to work in a couple of weeks. She has informed me that, due to her injuries, she is now disabled. What should I doAYOUR duties as an employer are set out in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which was extended last year to cover businesses with fewer than 15 employees.

The Act has a broad definition of disability and there is no definitive list of conditions or disabilities, so the range of people who have protection is extensive. As a starting point you need to confirm your employee is disabled in terms of the Act.

As an employer, you have a duty to make sure that you don't place a disabled employee at a substantial disadvantage compared with a non-disabled employee.

The best thing to do would be to discuss the employee's needs with her and then decide on what changes can be made. Depending on the outcome of the consultation, consider making changes to your premises and equipment, allocating work to another employee or transferring the employee to another post.

You should also look at revising the training provided to the person and their colleagues, while making sure that instructions and manuals are more accessible.

If your employee needs continuing treatment or rehabilitation then adopting flexible hours may be helpful.

Any change you make will have to be practical. There may be costs involved and disruption to the working practices of your business. Determining what is reasonable can be problematic and, if you're not careful, could result in a costly claim by your employee.

Make sure that you consult your solicitor, or the Law Society of Scotland, who can put you in touch with an accredited employment law specialist.

In these types of situations it pays to be as understanding and open as possible. …