Employees with disabilities are often portrayed as troublesome or unproductive due to potentially high absence levels. On the contrary, disabled employees are often hard working and skilled members of the workforce who only require slightly higher levels of support to remove the hurdles they may face in the workplace. It is usually supportive businesses and employers that get the best out of their disabled employees.
Talking about disabilities is often a sensitive and difficult conversation for both the employee and managers, however, it is often a conversation which needs to take place for employees to feel supported in the workplace. Employers should try to maintain an open culture in the workplace where employees feel they can talk to managers and bring any concerns to their seniors. It is often only through this culture that ‘hidden’ disabilities, for example mental illnesses such as depression, can be identified and supported. Numerous fit notes for a condition which is not expressly classed as a disability could be enough to give rise to an assertion that the employer should reasonably have known the employee was disabled so managers should be taking positive action to determine the state of the employee’s health and what can be done to support them in work.
Employers have legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments where they know, or ought reasonably to have known (constructive knowledge), that the employee was disabled. The aim of the adjustments are to remove the disadvantage the employee suffers because of their disability. Adjustments can include physical changes e.g. making adjustments to the workplace or providing technical aids and also changes to rules and procedures e.g. adjusting the employee’s start and finish times.
Even where the adjustment may not seem reasonable, or there isn’t a legal obligation to make adjustments, employers can considering making these to help support the worker. For example, if providing a technical aid to the employee is financially more than what would be deemed reasonable, it may be sensible to weigh this cost against the cost of absenteeism, including the financial price of paying company sick pay or hiring a temporary or agency worker to cover the job role. Taking steps which go above and beyond the legal requirements will only ever endear the employee to the company and make them feel wholly supported by their seniors and engage them in the role.