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Employer Awareness on Disability Discrimination Laws

Laws

disability discriminationAn employer must have knowledge of an employee having a disability before being obligated to make reasonable adjustments. If the employer has no such knowledge then he is under no duty to make reasonable adjustments. However, such knowledge can be imputed to the employer by other employees, managers, agents, and occupational health personnel. So what exactly is the burden on employers to protect their disabled employees?

Reasonable Adjustments

It is at the employer’s discretion what adjustments it deems reasonable to make, and employers should take preliminary steps in assessing what measures will prevent the employee from being disadvantaged because of his disability. However, consultation with the employee beforehand is not a mandatory requirement (Tarbuck v Sainsburys Supermarkets Ltd).

An employer is no longer able to justify a failure to make reasonable adjustments where they are necessary. All possibilities must be considered for each individual case, and a decision made as to whether each is a suitable adjustment to make, or not, and why. In cases that prompt tribunal hearings the employer should have documentary evidence to support these considerations.

Sick Pay

In O’Hanlon v The Commissioners for HM Revenue & Customs, the tribunal held that when a disabled employee exhausts his entitlement to sick pay stipulated by the employment contract after prolonged absences, the employer is only obligated to offer additional sick pay in extreme exceptional circumstances, such as a case for occupational stress or in connection with some grievance occurring at the same time as the sickness.

Financial Costs

The Government White Paper ‘Ending Discrimination Against Disabled Persons’ stated that the duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments would not give rise to a financial burden. Employers are within their right to consider such costs, and it was even suggested that future regulations would uphold a financial limit to further aid the employer.

Sue Maynard-Campbell, chairwoman for the Group for Solicitors with Disabilities (GSD), suggested that the “most reasonable adjustments are low cost and no more onerous than providing a specific type of laptop or moving equipment to allow wheelchair access”. However, there remains the other fifty percent, cases where more advanced and specialist facilities are required, which may be more expensive than the Government realize.

Suggested Measures

Baker suggests the following measures: preferential allocated car parking, ramps to facilitate access, lifts, handrails on staircases, accessible toilets, improved lighting, relocation of switches, sockets and operating buttons, improved signage, modification of door handles and taps, voice activated software, induction loops, task lighting, text phones, visual warnings and adapted office equipment and furniture.

Baker reiterates that these measures can extend to the pre-stages of employment. For example, employers might be expected to present application forms in larger size font or in Braille, or alternatively allow employees to submit applications orally in a recorded audio tape format.

Positive Discrimination

An employer is within his rights to employ a quota of disabled people or even to keep aside specific job roles for disabled people only. The case of Archibald v Fife Council confirms this, where the House of Lords stipulated that in practice the employer may even be obligated to do so. This may have the effect of placing an unfair burden on employers to withhold vacancies from a hypothetical candidate who is suitable for the role but who is not disabled.

Disability Awareness Training

Jackson illustrates the legal issues that would need to be addressed by disability awareness training. They are: legal obligations and penalties under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and associated Codes of Practice, guidance on best practice from relevant service providers and institutions, the employer’s own policies and procedures relating to disabled employees, customers and service users and specific practical issues concerning access to the workplace, workstations and machinery.

Balancing Interests of Democracy in Political Economy

Economy

political economyNo one can argue that political economy is dynamic. In The Political Economics of International Relations, Robert Gilpin notes that political economy is primarily the interaction of three fundamental forces: politics, economics and society. Plato in his Republic and Socrates in the works of Plato and other contemporaries discussed politics with a view of impact by society. Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations contrasted with Karl Marx in Das Capital on how economics impacted society. Every day we read about the impact politics has on the economy that affects society worldwide. In democracies, society is the final authority for this triumvirate, but disregard for either facet of this public intercourse increases chaos in a system trying to maintain a semblance of equilibrium.

On the surface, a natural ebb and flow of political activity, from laissez-faire to socialism, appears to balance the political economy. Public policy allows influence on economic issues to either government or the market. It can be argued therefore, that the political component is the controlling factor of political economic dynamics because it allows or regulates economic activity. But, what is society’s role?

A misalignment of the views of the people and the actions of the government towards them is indicative of a dysfunctional relationship in the context of democratic government. This does not necessarily spell poor government but the long-term stability of that government and its impact on the economy and society in general is a very real concern. In general, the government that listens and is answerable to its citizens is the most politically stable. But is society heard or manipulated?

A Voice for Society

The extent to which a people have voice in their own government depends on whether the government hears and listens. A government informed by polls and focus groups may be able to discern public opinion accurately and thereby, maintain the control of the dynamics of public intercourse.

Democracy is demonstrably the best long-term solution to date. A well-informed society that can participate in its own governance is the best governance solution. Former World Bank President James Wolfenson made this point in a 1999 Washington Post article “Voices of the Poor”. He emphasized that without public consensus you cannot bring about change. In reality, the citizenry does not always have the ability to analyze problems and provide informed opinion. This lessens the quality but not the impact of popular participation. On complicated issues like economics, there is a temptation for government to orchestrate public opinion and therefore, wrest the control of policy from the grip of the voters.

The ability of civil society organizations, lobbyists, and the media to focus on issues in a competent way is a partial solution to a popular information deficiency. These alternative perspectives take the monopoly of information and suggestion away from the government. In a democracy as large as the United States, communications determines the impact of the citizenry and becomes an important variable in the political economic equation.

Media Can Balance Political Economic Dynamics

The media advances to the fore as a potential balancing mechanism for the political economy. Civil society organizations focus on the special interests of society, usually on process not substance. They provide a voice for citizens. Lobbyists try to disproportionately influence political policy for small segments of the public. Media has no inherent bias, but that does not mean it can’t have one.

Pippa Norris detailed the importance of the media in Chapter 8 of his book Driving Democracy. The media has always been an agent of change. It informs and communicates. It is unbiased when it remains objective. This is its strength as a balancing mechanism. The great British politician Edmond Burke coined the term the fourth estate to emphasize the essential nature of the press in a democracy. The danger of the fourth estate is that it has a near monopoly on the distribution of public information. When the media is controlled by forces with an agenda, it becomes a fifth column. Its corruption has a ripple effect that impacts politics and economics and hence, society.

In the moment that agenda rather than objectivity controls the media, information becomes propaganda. Dialogue becomes monologue. Equilibrium becomes chaos. In this scenario, society has no voice – except in the next ballot box.

The Political Economy of Democracy

The strength of an economy can be measured in its impact on society. Does it provide for the welfare of the people? In a democracy, society, at least the voting part, determines political directions. Considering that citizens can influence the political system that in turn influences the economic outcomes that best suit the citizenry, it is clear that the political economy of a democracy is controlled by those who control the voters. The ultimate arbitrator and balancing mechanism in the political economy of a democracy are the citizens themselves.