Susan Gordon on the fledgling Disability Discrimination Bill

The Government's Disability Discrimination Bill was published in January 1995 in the wake of the public furore surrounding the failure in May 1994 of the Civil Rights [Disabled Persons] Bill.

Under the terms of the Bill, which applies to any UK employer of 20 or more employees, an employer will discriminate against a disabled person if he treats them less favourably than others who do not have the disability. This will impact on all aspects of the employment relationship including recruitment, promotion, training and dismissal. A disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment which has substantial and long-term adverse effects on a person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

An employer will be able to justify discriminatory treatment if they can satisfy one of the specified conditions relating to the disabled person's suitability for the employment and can show the view is reasonable. The concept of suitability is inherently wide. It will, however, mean that employers will be able to continue to recruit and promote the best person for the job provided their assessment of who is best is an objective one, discounting any consideration of a person's disability.

The most serious impact for employers is likely to come from the requirement to take reasonable steps to prevent arrangements of their premises from placing disabled persons at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with persons who are not disabled. What is not by any means clear is how far this obligation will go. While, in deciding whether an adjustment is reasonable in a particular case, employers can take account of the cost of the adjustment and its effectiveness, no financial upper limit has as yet been set. It will also presumably be hard to assess effectiveness without actually making the change.

The Bill is currently awaiting its second reading in the House of Lords and the Government aims to have the legislation on the statute books by the autumn. It remains to be seen, however, whether the resultant Act will be effective in meeting the Government's stated objective of eliminating discrimination against disabled people or whether it will prove a weak foil in the fight of disabled people to enjoy equality in all aspects of life.

Susan Gordon is a solicitor at Taylor Joynson Garrett specialising in employment law.

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