Examples of disability discrimination in the workplace

June 12, 2020

Countries with robust discrimination legislation describe disability discrimination as treating a person with a disability unfairly or putting them at a disadvantage in the workplace because of their disability. In many countries there are laws that forbid this kind of discrimination in all aspects of the working world including recruitment, pay, assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, employment benefits or any other terms and conditions linked to employment. 

Examples of workplace disability discrimination: 

Although what is and is not disability discrimination may vary by country there are some common ways in which people with disabilities can be disadvantaged. They fall into two broad categories:


Direct discrimination

This is where an employee is treated less favourably than other employees because of their disability. For example, dismissing an employee for disability related absence is considered direct discrimination in many countries. 


Indirect discrimination

This happens when an organisation has a way of working that will impact people with a disability in a worse way than those without a disability. This is considered unlawful discrimination unless there is a genuine reason for the policy and it is balanced. For example, if a job description requires applicants to have a driver’s licence. While this may be justified if the role is a delivery driver, it may not be the case if the role is an office worker. 

In many countries equality legislation also protects people with disabilities against:


Failure to make reasonable accommodation

Most anti-discrimination laws require employers to make reasonable adjustments to a workplace in order to facilitate someone with a disability. What is considered reasonable is dependent on a number of factors including:

  • resources available to the employer
  • extent of adjustment required

However if, for example, an employer reserved parking spaces close to the office for senior management and refused to provide one to an employee with mobility issues, that may well be viewed as discriminatory.


Discrimination arising from a disability

This protects employees from being treated unfairly as a result of something connected to their disability. For example, not receiving a bonus because you took time off for medical treatment related to your disability. 



Harassment occurs someone is treated in a way that makes them feel ashamed, humiliated or offended in relation to their disability. For example, if colleagues refer to an individual using derogatory terms related to a disability. 



Victimisation occurs where an employee is treated badly because they have made a complaint of discrimination in the workplace. A non-disabled person may also be victimised if they are supporting a person with a disability in their claim. 


Discrimination law in international workplaces

The global nature of business today, means your business may well be operating in multiple countries with differing laws and standards when it comes to disability discrimination. How discriminatory law is interpreted in our global economy also varies by country. For example an American citizen working for a US company in Africa, is still covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act however, a local employee is not. 


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