At least 250,000 people with serious health conditions now have new legal rights not to be discriminated against.
People suffering from cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis, but not yet showing signs of their illness, will be protected under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 2005, which became law yesterday (Monday).
This means that employers and organisations providing services to the public will not be able to discriminate against people with these illnesses.
Under the old legislation, people had to prove that they had a mental impairment that had a ‘substantial and long-term impact’ on their lives to get protection from the law.
They also had to prove that the impairment was ‘clinically well recognised’ before they could bring a case under disability discrimination legislation.
The Department for Work and Pensions estimates that about a quarter of a million people in the UK will be covered by the new rules.
Bert Massie, chairman of the Disability Rights Commission, said the new legislation closed a significant loophole in the law.
“We have been unable to help people with serious illnesses who have been treated unfairly, because they didn’t fall under the legal definition of disability,” he said.
A report earlier this year by the National AIDS Trust into HIV-related discrimination found that fear of dismissal prevented many people disclosing their HIV status to employers.