Disabled employees: 3 startling workplace myths you need to read

shutterstock_187575011When it comes to talking about disabled workers, some managers wring their hands and begin to fret when they start to consider the mysterious ‘special arrangements’ and ‘reasonable adjustments’ they’ll need to make to ensure they’re fulfilling their legal duty of care. In the very worst cases, some employers have actually used health and safety law to justify discrimination. In this post, we aim to set the record straight and explore some of the biggest fallacies surrounding disabled workers, as well as exploring the measures you need to take to ensure your workplace is inclusive and accessible for all…

What is disability anyway?

Before we look at the myths surrounding disabled workers, it is worth considering what actually constitutes a disability. According to The Equality Act 2010, a disability is defined as:

“A physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out day-to-day activities.”

Tailor your policies to individual needs

As you can see, the term ‘disability is incredibly broad. In fact, you can’t always tell when someone has a disability, and some employees may choose not to make you aware that they are disabled, particularly where it will not interfere with their ability to do the job. It is therefore vital that you don’t make assumptions or introduce blanket policies, and be aware that disabilities can affect people in very individual ways. Remember, under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, you have you are responsible for the health, safety and welfare of all your employees, whether they have a disability or not.

Disabled Worker Myths

In recent years, the HSE has ‘busted’ a number of myths pertaining to disabled workers. Some of the most pervasive of these include.

Health and safety provides a legitimate reason for not employing disabled workers.

False. The HSE says: This is not the case. There is no health and safety legislation that would prevent a disabled person finding or staying in employment. Health and safety should not be used as an excuse for doing nothing, or for refusing to make reasonable adjustments.

Employing disabled workers is expensive and difficult.

Not true. According to the HSE: Many people with disabilities do not require additional assistance to do their job.  Employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to make sure disabled workers aren’t seriously disadvantaged when doing their jobs.  Most importantly, many of these adjustments can be simple and straightforward (see below for details.)

You need to be registered as disabled to get the adjustments you need to do your job.

False! There is no process requiring registration for disabled people.  If you have a disability, your employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments to enable you to do your job.  The best way to make sure this happens is to inform your employer of your disability and work with them to identify and consider adjustments that could be put in place to assist you.

Risk assessments and disability

All good managers understand just how important a risk assessment is to help protect your workers and your business, as well as ensuring you comply with the law. While there is no requirement to carry out a specific, separate, risk assessment for a disabled person, if you become aware of a worker or a visitor with a disability, you may need to review your existing risk assessment to make sure it covers risks that might be present for that person. It’s vital not to jump to assumptions or make knee-jerk decisions, such as banning all people with a certain condition from carrying out particular tasks. Remember, symptoms and severity of symptoms for various conditions may differ greatly from person to person. Risk assessments should be as individual as the people they are designed to protect – for more information, see our post explaining why one-size risk assessment templates are not a good idea!

Reasonable adjustments

shutterstock_188488304Most employers understand that they have a legal duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled workers. Just how you define ‘reasonable’, however, will vary from case to case. Broadly speaking, the aim of the rule is to ensure disabled workers have the same access to everything that is involved in doing and keeping a job as non-disabled people. In many cases, making adjustments will be simple and low cost, such as improving access or layout, adapting work equipment or relocating a workstation, or planning a suitable Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP).  What is reasonable will depend, among other things, on the size and nature of the business. The most important thing is to keep communication channels open. While workers are under no obligation to reveal their disabilities to an employer, if they do choose to share this information you should make an effort to ensure they feel involved in the adjustment process. After all, disabled or not, nobody enjoys being talked down to!

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