All employers have a legal duty to “make reasonable adjustments to make sure workers with disabilities, or physical or mental health conditions, are not substantially disadvantaged when doing their jobs.” Even before the pandemic, many people with disabilities faced major barriers both at work and when finding work, so how did the Covid-driven changes affect those with disabilities?
Covid adversely affected disabled people, with this group suffering as many as 60% of Covid-related deaths. Recent research by the TUC highlighted that the pandemic also created an even wider gap in the workplace. Almost 25% of those surveyed said they did not tell their employer about their disability for fear of being untreated fairly, and 38% in case their employer would think they couldn’t do their job.
Bullying in the workplace, missing out on promotion and being subject to excessive monitoring are just some examples of unfair treatment of people with disabilities. The law should protect against this happening. The Equality Act 2010 recognises workplaces may need to be structured differently, give support and remove barriers in order to secure equality for disabled people. People with disabilities have the right to request reasonable adjustments to enable them to work effectively but the TUC’s research showed that 45% didn’t get any or only some of the reasonable adjustments.
The pandemic has created a new sector of homeworkers and many people with a disability had never worked from home before, resulting in a bigger need for reasonable adjustments, such as speech-to-text apps or software for online meetings. But almost half didn’t get all or even some of the requests made with many not even being told why, which makes it difficult to challenge this failure.
Shielding has been another area in which people with disabilities have been disproportionately affected. Those with disabilities were more likely to have complications as a result of Covid and so employers should have been extra careful in minimising risk and potential exposure. However, around half reported that no extra measures or even discussions had taken place, even more so amongst those not in the physical workplace. And not all of those advised to shield were furloughed, many continuing to work, effectively asking them to choose between their health and their jobs.
In a post-pandemic world of work, where does this leave people with disabilities? They already face significant discrimination and disadvantage, and without access to legally recognised and reasonable adjustments, disabled workers are at greater risk of losing their jobs. Equality in the workplace really needs to be at the heart of the roadmap to recovery. It is even more significant right now, with the threat of economic downturn with high job losses and the potential to increase both the disability employment gap and disability pay gap. In previous poor economic situations, disabled workers have been the first to lose their jobs and the last to be re-employed.
Just as the gender pay gap has now gained traction, it’s time for the disability pay gap to be reported on. This would provide greater transparency on employment and pay, and bring awareness to reasonable adjustments and how employers can make them. People with disabilities offer a great deal to employers and don’t deserve to be marginalised or discriminated against, and certainly shouldn’t be afraid of revealing their disability for fear of discrimination or reprisal.