The changes that could affect disabled employees in the workplace

Luke Hatkinson-Kent at Allied Vehicles Limited talks about legal and funding changes that could affect your disabled employees.

Rights for disabled employees have garnered a lot more attention and improvement in the past couple of decades.

From changes in the law to the allocation of specific funding and companies that support getting more disabled people into work, the majority of action has been mostly positive.

Not everything is perfect though and a disability employment gap still exists in the UK – the government and businesses need to do more to put this right.

Recently there have been some interesting developments, both good and bad, affecting disabled people in the workplace.

Changes to the law

Disability discrimination laws have been adapted so that employers must consider if there is a link between an employee’s disability and any misconduct before deciding upon disciplinary action. Employers can decide whether they should obtain medical evidence before proceeding with any disciplinary action and weigh up whether this may either directly or indirectly be causing any such behavioural problems.

This was in part due to a recent discrimination case where a disabled employee was warned about her attendance levels as they were six times over the company’s threshold. However, even though these were down to the employee’s disability, they were issued with a warning and their sick pay cancelled.

The employee claimed this was discriminatory and because the warning risked further disciplinary action and losing sick pay, the employee won the case.

Another recent example that influenced this change to the law was a case where a teacher with cystic fibrosis showed an 18-rated film to younger children and was fired. The employer claimed there was no link between the disability and choosing to show the film but the teacher’s medical evidence available by the time of the tribunal proved there was a link due to the impact of increased work demands and stress on their disability.

Brexit’s impact

Once Brexit officially comes into play in March 2019, the UK will no longer be subject to the EU’s Human Rights Act. A new version will be drawn up that will take into account a range of disability concerns but until then the UK is still subject to EU legislation. The EU Web Accessibility Directive could possibly be one of the last pieces of EU human rights legislation that the UK has to implement.

This is aimed at improving the online resources and web accessibility for disabled people to cut the disability employment gap. Shocking statistics show that 20 per cent of disabled adults in 2018 have never used the internet, compared to just one in ten adults in total across the UK.

Part of the directive includes making the websites of public sector bodies accessible without a mouse, as this can be hard for many disabled people to use.

Where technology isn’t designed or under legal instruction to be wholly accessible, it can prevent disabled people from using it and benefiting from it. This could be for applying for a job, learning and other important uses which this new directive aims to address.

Workplace accessibility

Whenever new buildings are created for offices, they regularly include interesting features to catch the eye. However, many of these can cause difficulties for wheelchair users and other disabled people, even when ramps are installed.

As the Disability Discrimination Act was only introduced in 1995, any buildings pre-dating it are unlikely to comply with such accessibility needs. Yet any after should be designed with this in mind, but this isn’t always the case. In a lot of cases design elements can still look attractive while being practical for those using mobility solutions, such as with modern walkways, ramps or funky lifts.

Funding for disabled employees has suffered

Funding initiatives

The Access to Elected Office Fund was set up by the coalition government to provide grants of up to £40,000 to disabled candidates who stand for parliament. Its return has been significantly delayed though, which has resulted in the current government being accused recently of ‘shutting disabled people out of elected office.’

It was frozen after the 2015 general election to wait for review. In early June this was extended for a further 12-month consultation period, meaning if it ever does make a return it will not be until summer 2019. This is a big blow and doesn’t help increase disabled representation in public office at all.

Services supporting disabled workers

In the more than 20 years since the Disability Discrimination Act was introduced there have been plenty of positive stories about companies and services supporting disabled workers. In July 2018, Cheshire police were awarded Disability Confident ‘Leader’ status, which is the highest that can be achieved by an organisation.

Such an award scheme has encouraged more businesses to remove barriers for recruiting and retaining disabled people and become truly inclusive employers. Businesses can be recognised by displaying the official logo, making them more attractive for potential employees.

Most of these updates should have a positive impact on the future for disabled people in the workplace, though they do show evidence that barriers still sadly exist. If you run a business, what are you doing to make it fully inclusive?

Luke Hatkinson-Kent is content writer at Allied Vehicles Limited.

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.