It is a well-established principle under UK law, specifically the Equality Act 2010, that employers are required to ensure employees with disabilities are not discriminated against (whether directly or indirectly), harassed or victimised while at work. In addition, where necessary, employers are required to make “reasonable adjustments” to alleviate any disadvantage that the employee’s specific disability causes.

The results from Business Disability Forum’s Great British Workplace Adjustments Survey 2023 (the survey), which focussed on workplace adjustments and received over 1,900 responses from managers and disabled employees, however, illustrate the barriers faced by disabled employees in the workplace and highlight some of the practical difficulties managers experience when trying to support disabled employees.

Some of the key findings and suggestions from the survey were:

  • 78% of disabled employees reported having to initiate the process of obtaining reasonable adjustments themselves rather than their employer initiating the conversation. 64% of managers felt confident in discussing an employee’s disability. However, difficulties arose due to different types of support being accessed in different ways, instead of there being one central point for employees to access health and adjustment-related support. The report recommended that organisations create a “single entry point”/a central location to store information on all health, adjustments and wellbeing support offered by the organisation. It was thought that this would assist managers in finding support and making decisions more quickly. The report also suggested having conversations with employees and conducting “reasonable adjustment reviews” each time there was a change in the employee’s health situation.
  • 56% of disabled employees reported experiencing disability related barriers at work, even after adjustments had been made. Some of this was due to the adjustments failing to take into account wider barriers within the organisation. Other reasons included treatment by colleagues, with 38% of disabled employees reporting being bullied or harassed at work due to their disability or condition, and 40% reporting feeling patronised or put down by colleagues at work. The report recommended that employers undertake a bullying and harassment review of their organisation to understand if any negative treatment of staff was thought to be because of their protected characteristic so enabling the employer to intervene. It also encouraged employers to make sure their policies have an appropriate threshold/definition of what bullying and harassment is.
  • In most cases, occupational health is not working well with employers’ workplace adjustments processes, with only 22% of disabled employees and 25% of managers reporting that occupational health had helped employees manage their disability at work and understand the adjustments that would actually help. The report recommended that the tender process for selecting an occupational health provider should include a requirement that providers adhere to the employer’s diversity and disability inclusion policies and guidance. Additionally, the report recommended providing managers with appropriate support and guidance so that they know how to make an effective referral and what to do with an occupational health report.
  • Disability passports were reported not to have improved experiences of disability inclusion or obtaining adjustments. Only 11% of employees reported having more discussions with their managers about their disability, as a result of having a disability passport. The report suggested that, even if an employee holds a disability passport, employers should ensure conversations take place whenever there are changes in the employee’s disability or the workplace, rather that holding these conversations annually. Furthermore, it was recommended that employers ensure that disability passports are kept safe and that more guidance and training is given to managers on how these passports should be used.

In addition to the recommendations detailed in the survey, we would advise employers to:

  • provide regular and effective training to all employees on what constitutes appropriate workplace behaviour, including topics such as discrimination, harassment, victimisation, etc.;
  • ensure their employees are aware of how to report any inappropriate behaviour they experience or witness in the workplace.
  • where workplace investigations are being conducted internally by managers or senior individuals, ensure that they are provided with appropriate training on how to investigate any complaints of bullying, harassment, discrimination etc. and how to support all employees involved during the investigation process; and
  • if the requested or suggested reasonable adjustment cannot be implemented, hold discussions with the employee to explain the reasons why this cannot be implemented and to see if an alternative solution can be found.

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Published: 23rd August 2023
Area: Corporate & Commercial

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