What counts as a disability for discrimination purposes?

Under the law, disability is defined as "a physical or mental impairment" that "has a substantial and long-term adverse effect' on an individual's 'ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities". There is no need to have a particular diagnosis in order to be protected by the Equality Act. What matters is that the impairment has a long-term negative effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

The effect of an impairment will be long-term if it has lasted for 12 months, is likely to last at least 12 months or for the rest of your life.
Some conditions, for example cancer, HIV or multiple sclerosis, are protected by the Equality Act immediately. There is no need to show evidence of a long-term effect.

There are special rules for progressive and recurring conditions. 

And you can be protected if you had a disability in the past but have since recovered, or if an employer treats you badly (for example not offering you a job) because they jump to the conclusion that you have a disability when you don’t.
Note that the disabled worker will only be protected if the employer knew or should have been reasonably expected to have known that they were disabled So especially if your disability is ‘hidden’ (for example, some mental health conditions), if you don’t tell an employer or prospective employer about your disability, you may not be able to access the protections provided by the Equality Act.

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.

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