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‘Employment services’: agencies, careers advice, vocational training etc

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Last updated 17th August 2015.

This page outlines the disability discrimination rules on provision of ’employment services’. These include eg. some vocational guidance, training services, and services designed to assist people to find or keep jobs. Claims go to the Employment Tribunal rather than County Court.


Discrimination by providers of ’employment services’ is covered by separate rules in EqA s.55-56. Examples of employment services are

Where an employment ‘agency’ acts not as an agent, but as an employer supplying an individual to do work, the contract worker rules will apply instead.

What is different about employment services?

Nearly all employment services would be covered anyway by the Equality Act rules on provision of services. However, claims on employment services go to the employment tribunal. This is generally seen as easier than having to go to the County Court, where claims on provision of services (in England or Wales) would normally go. A major exception is that training or guidance (including work experience) to which eg. a university or school has power to afford access is not an employment service, so it goes to the County Court (unless the student is an employee) – see separate page Work placements related to education courses).

Also the s.60 restriction on enquiries about health or disability applies to employment services but not to other services (s.60(9) EqA).

A smaller difference is that the reasonable adjustment duty (next heading) can be different for employment services. Very often though it makes no difference to a person’s rights in practice whether something is or is not an employment service – apart from the claim going to an employment tribunal. The normal types of discrimination claim are covered, for example direct discrimination and ‘discrimination arising from disability’.

An instructor in a CV writing workshop run by a training company makes fun of the speech of a student who stammers. This may be unlawful discrimination in the provision of an employment service (eg harassment or direct discrimination). Any claim would probably go to an Employment Tribunal.

A recruitment agency restricts the interview opportunities it offers to a client who stammers, looking for a permanent job. This may be unlawful discrimination. Any claim would go to an Employment Tribunal.

Reasonable adjustment duty

The reasonable employment duty applies to employment service providers. However, at least for some employment services the reasonable adjustment duty is ‘anticipatory’. This means the provider should consider reasonable adjustments even in advance of a particular disabled person presenting themself, and one looks at ‘group’ disadvantage rather the disadvantage of that individual.

There is some uncertainty and disagreement on what the rules are. If you really want a technical discussion, see Employment services: Technical issues on reasonable adjustment duty.

What are ’employment services’?

Broadly, employment services can include vocational training or guidance (including careers advice), services designed to assist people to find jobs, or in some cases to keep jobs or establish themselves in self-employment, services for supplying employers with people to do work, and some assessment services. Some services of Jobcentre Plus will be covered.

Work experience is included through s.56(6) EqA, which says that vocational training includes: “work experience (including work experience the duration of which is not agreed until after it begins)”, and also “making arrangements for the provision of” work experience. On work experience, see also separate pages on Work experience and Work placements related to education courses.

There is more detail in EqA s.56 and para 11.59 of the Employment Code.

Training and guidance, including work experience

‘Training or guidance’ (doubtless including careers advice) is not within the employment services provisions if –

  • it is covered by the general employment provisions, eg training by one’s employer (s.56(3) EqA), or
  • in summary, it is for pupils of a school, or for students of a university or further education college, where the school, university or college has power to afford access to the training or guidance (s.56(4)(5) EqA). This provision has been considered by the Employment Appeal Tribunal in relation to work experience. – the Blackwood case (on separate ‘Work placement’ page).

As regards the second bullet point, generally the Equality Act’s education provisions (in Part 6) should apply here, so any claim goes to the County Court rather than the employment tribunal (though see Employment services: Technical issues on reasonable adjustment duty. There may arguably be cases where the Equality Act’s general provisions on services (Part 3) apply instead of Part 6 – if the services are accessed through a school for example but a third party who provides them and who discriminates is not within the Part 6 education provisions.

What types of vocational training are left to be covered as employment services under s.55? The Employment Code gives as examples:

“providing classes on CV writing and interviewing techniques, training in IT/keyboard skills, providing work placements and literacy and numeracy classes to help adults into work.”
Para 11.60, Employment Code

Garrard v Governing Body of the University of London, County Court [2013] EqLR 746
The case concerned an alleged failure to make reasonable adjustments in relation to a postgraduate training programme for doctors. Successful applicants were employed by the NHS Trust where the training took place. The London Deanery administered interviews, and was argued to be part of the University of London. The County Court held it had no jurisdiction to hear a complaint against the University of London under Part 6 Equality Act (education). The programme was vocational training within Part 5 Equality Act. S.56(5) did not exclude that because those on the course were not ‘students’ of University of London, and anyway the London Deanery’s role was so circumscribed that it did not have power to afford access to the training.

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