Positive Action: Lawful steps that employers can take to support individuals with a disability

There are 9 ‘protected characteristics’ in the Equality Act. Every person has some of these characteristics. Some groups of people who share a particular characteristic may suffer disadvantage connected to that characteristic, have different needs compared to others without that characteristic, or be under-represented in certain activities.

People who have a disability are currently disadvantaged and under-represented in the employment market, with only 4.8% of adults who have a learning disability being in paid employment¹. This is despite the fact that 86%² of adults with a learning disability who don’t have a paid job would like one.

British Association for Supported Employment, 2021-2022.

Recruiting someone with a disability not only adds to the diversity and strength of the workplace, but it also offers new learning opportunities for team members and can enhance organisational health.

The positive action provisions in the Equality Act allow employers to take action that may involve treating one group that shares a protected characteristic more favourably than others, where this is a proportionate way to enable or encourage members of that group to:

  • overcome or minimise a disadvantage
  • have their different needs met
  • participate in a particular activity

In the particular case of disability, it is lawful for an employer to treat a disabled person more favourably than a non-disabled person without needing to rely on positive action. However, employers can opt to use the positive action provisions to overcome or minimise a disadvantage connected to a person’s disability or increase the participation of people with a particular form of impairment.

This means that as an employer you can ‘ring-fence’ roles for individuals with disabilities and/or provide reasonable adjustments to support them in the recruitment process and on the job if this is a proportionate way to help them to overcome disadvantages, meet needs they have that are different from the population as a whole, or enable them to participate fully in the workplace.

For more information, please refer to the government guidance on Positive Action in the Workplace.




WorkFit can support you through all stages of the process and all advice, resources and training are free of charge.

Please visit www.dsworkfit.org.uk for more information or contact us on 0333 1212300 or dsworkfit@downs-syndrome.org.uk 


  1. Employment Rates for People with Disabilities 2021-22 | British Association for Supported Employment (base-uk.org)
  2. Mencap urges more employers to recruit people with a learning disability | Mencap