The DDA was superseded by the Equality Act 2010 and the latter’s effectiveness has recently been called into question by peers. The House of Lords report – ‘The Equality Act 2010: the impact on disabled people’ – suggested that employers, service providers and public bodies are still failing to adapt to the needs of disabled people.
This message has now been reinforced by research commissioned by PMI Health Group, part of Willis Towers Watson. Findings revealed that, despite anti-discrimination legislation, more than a third (37%) of UK workers believe disability is still a barrier to career progression.
In light of this study, and those of the Lords’ report, it would be advisable for businesses to ensure they are not falling foul of the law.
What measures could be considered?
Prudent steps may include the use of pre-placement questionnaires, reviewed by occupational health professionals. These can provide employers with all the information they require to make reasonable workplace adjustments from the very outset.
Health and wellbeing initiatives can also play an important role in helping to create supportive, disability-friendly, places of work. These may include the services that are available through group income protection and Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs). Initiatives that facilitate early medical intervention for mental and physical conditions can also play a particularly important role in reducing incidents of long-term sickness absence.
Where members of staff are returning to work following periods of sickness absence as the result of a disability, careful planning and managed is called for. Employees may experience feelings of isolation or apprehension and if appropriate adjustments are not made, a costly relapse may result.
Return to work interviews offer employees the chance to raise any issues which require ongoing support and employers can discuss how best to integrate them back into the workforce.
In some cases, staff may no longer be able to conduct their job in the same manner as they did previously. Any necessary modifications to job responsibilities should be identified and agreed upon with employees and reviewed regularly to assess their suitability. In some cases, redeployment into new, more suitable, roles may be needed.
Workplace risk assessments will identify any necessary adjustments to buildings, furniture, workstations, equipment or tools. The installation of ramps or lowered shelving, for example, may be required.
Flexible working arrangements, which might include irregular hours or home working, may help employees to work around ongoing treatment or simply working in a safe and comfortable environment.
Employers can seek advice on disability from the Disability Rights Commission to ensure any modifications made to accommodate staff are appropriate and adequate. Help and financial support may also be available through the Government-run Access to Work scheme.