The BDF has called for better education around the function and authority of the EHRC, after a survey revealed a lack of knowledge among both employers and employees.
The BDF research, which surveyed 100 business members and employee networks, found that just 5% of disabled people had used the EHRC (either by contacting it for advice or using its website and resources) when making a claim of discrimination against an employer or service provider.
A further 75% of people with disabilities said they would not know how to bring a claim or who to go to for support and advice.
Meanwhile, although 74% of employers had heard of the EHRC, 64% said they were not sure what it does. Additionally, 78% said they did not know if they had been contacted by the EHRC.
Angela Matthews, head of policy and advice at the BDF, explained the commission's scope: “The EHRC is great at giving advice for both employers and employees, but the flip side of that is that it can also contact employers if they are in breach of the Equalities Act," she told HR magazine.
“One of the main things that is stated, for instance, is that the EHRC has the power to contact employers if they are using pre-employment disability and health questionnaires, but when we spoke to employers... they did not know how they would be contacted, or who within the organisation they would contact. There is a lot of ambiguity.”
Matthews said that education is key to increasing awareness. “What is needed is more education around what it is, and what it does. Every one of our respondents – both employers and disabled people – all said that is the number one thing that can be changed.”
HR professionals can better engage with the EHRC through networking and sharing their knowledge, she added: “The thing for HR is to make sure you’re updated. What we’ve seen is that HR values networks. We find that signing up to a newsletter from the government or the EHRC can only go so far. We will be writing our own reference resource on EHRC for HR professionals, but networks and knowledge-sharing are the best way to share this kind of information.
“It gives HR the opportunity to ask questions: What do you do? How did you get it wrong, or right? Amid an era of tech and AI we’re finding people really want to hear from each other, and people get a lot more from knowing what is being done on the ground."
Matthews reassured that there is no sign that Brexit will affect the EHRC. But she added that the government must allocate more funding. "There is no reason why Brexit should affect the existence or the status of the EHRC, and our view is that the government mustn't let Brexit affect the EHRC," she said.
"Disability and disabled people rely on the EHRC to be the strategic enforcement body for disability. Yet the government has not allocated enough resources to it. We want EHRC to be put on the same footing as the Government Equalities Office, which is dedicated to women, transgender, and sexual orientation equality.
"In our recent submission to the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ inquiry on human rights in international agreements, we called for the EHRC to be the government’s ‘critical friend’ by being strategically involved in assessing equality impact when international agreements are made post-Brexit to ensure [disabled people] and accessibility are not affected in the delivery of such agreements."