Disability Discrimination Still Blocking Employee Career Progression
With many UK employers still operating with flawed workplace policies and a lack of suitable facilities for disabled staff, efforts to get more disabled people in work are falling short of official targets and appear difficult to meetJermaine Haughton
In recent months, a number of stories of disability discrimination have received national and regional coverage, such as that of Andy Davies, 51, from Woolton Merseyside, who recently won an unfair dismissal lawsuit against his former bosses, after he was unfairly sacked from his £100,000-a-year job after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).
And the latest research suggests Davies is far from alone from experiencing significant difficulties at work.
Despite government initiatives and the support of anti-discrimination legislation, more than a third (37%) of UK workers believe disability is still a barrier to career progression, according to a study commissioned by PMI Health Group, part of Willis Towers Watson.
Moreover, nearly one in five (17%) respondents also claimed employers fail to make adequate provisions to accommodate their, or their colleagues’, disabilities.
These statistics suggest the government’s attempts to halve the 33% employment gap between disabled and non-disabled workers by 2020 may be in jeopardy unless further action is taken.
Several employment experts on the issue have voiced their concerns about if and how the goal can be reached. Think tank The Learning and Work Institute, for example, has estimated that at the current rate it would take 200 years to completely close the gap.
As highlighted by the findings of the PMI Health Group study, many employers seem to be worried and cautious about hiring workers with disabilities due to potential higher costs, problems with the quality of their workplace facilities and a fear of breaching health and safety issues.
Also Purple, an organisation that provides bespoke advice to employers and disabled employees, found that some 45% of UK businesses are nervous about hiring a disabled person, citing further concerns about the interview process, not knowing whether to help with tasks such as opening doors or pulling out chairs, and falling foul of discrimination law.
The biggest challenge in the issue for business leaders is preventing disabled employees from falling out of employment remains a major and complex issue.
Think-tank the Resolution Foundation has found that disabled people who have been out of work for over a year see their odds of returning to employment reduced at twice the rate of non-disabled people. Other studies have also shown that a disportionately high amount of individuals with disabilities are in self-employment, and even then they face discrimination in accessing funding and resources.
Closing The Gap
With the ‘Purple Pound’ being worth an estimated £212bn a year to the economy, and the major people with disabilities acquiring impairment during their working life, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research, a failure to successfully plan and resources to cater for individuals with disabilities can potentially damage an employer’s future growth, recruitment and organisational culture.
“Companies have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments, where necessary, to ensure employees with disabilities are not disadvantaged in the workplace,” said Mike Blake, Director at PMI Health Group.
“In light of these findings, it would be advisable for businesses to ensure they are not falling foul of this legislation. Deploying pre-placement questionnaires that are reviewed by an occupational health professional gives employers the information they need to make reasonable adjustments from the outset. Physical assessments can be carried out by occupational health physicians if more detailed information is required.”
One of Britain’s largest employers, the NHS, has taken a lead in developing a series of anti-discrimination schemes for its employees.
The body said it has agreed with the NHS Equality and Diversity Council to mandate a Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES) via the NHS Standard Contract in England from April 2018, following a preparatory year from April 2017.
A 2015 report from the universities of Middlesex and Bedfordshire found that 17% of NHS staff describe themselves as disabled. However, disabled staff were 12% more likely to say they felt bullied by their manager, 11% more likely to say they felt pressured to work when unwell, and 8% less likely to say their organisation acted fairly with regards to career progression..
For small and medium sized businesses in the private sector, installing such methods may be particularly difficult as they may lack the structures and know-how to do so, even though many bosses acknowledge the importance of closing the gap.
Blake suggested a number of initiatives businesses of all sizes can use to help tackle disability discrimination in their workplace.
“Health and wellbeing initiatives, including the services available through group income protection and Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), can help in establishing a more disability-friendly workplace so companies can attract and retain skilled staff from this important demographic,” he said.
“Health and wellbeing initiatives that facilitate early medical intervention for mental and physical conditions can play an important role in establishing a more disability-friendly workplace and reducing incidents of long-term sickness absence.”