Out-Law News

Disability workplace reporting review underway

Amy Hextell tells HRNews about steps employers can take to become more disability inclusive

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    The government has published a consultation looking at workforce reporting on disability. It’s aimed at large employers, those with 250 employees or more. 

    It follows on from the National Disability Strategy, which was published in July last year, aimed at improving the experience of people with disabilities not just in work but across all aspects of life. This consultation is one of the actions set out in that strategy and will consider ways to advance the current framework for disability workforce reporting. 

    In the UK the current framework provides support to employers to voluntarily report information on disability, mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. It’s central aim is to increase transparency to make workplaces across the UK more welcoming, supportive and open environments in which everyone can thrive, irrespective of disability. Under the current arrangements employers are not asked to inform the government whether or not they are using the voluntary reporting framework, and evidence around its use is very limited. This consultation will look at all of that as well as considering whether reporting should be become mandatory.

    Writing for Outlaw, Amy Hextell has been commenting on this. In her article ‘UK explores disability workforce reporting requirements’ she says one possible outcome of this consultation could be around pay disclosure, in the form of new disability pay gap reporting requirements. However, she flags a significant problem with that, which is gathering the data. She says: ‘good data in relation to disability within the workforce is difficult to obtain, not least because there is still stigma around disclosing a disability at work.’ 

    Quite a few employers out there have already hit upon that problem in their efforts to report voluntarily, as a number of our clients have been doing for some time. What we have seen is that that exercise has proved to be a lot easier when the workforce is onside, fully understanding why the data is being gathered and the purpose behind it. Amy makes that point in her article. She says: ‘Before being able to report, however, I think employers need to be taking practical action towards improving disability inclusion at work and demonstrating to a disabled workforce that this is about more than simply meeting legal obligations. Otherwise, the data simply isn’t going to be there to make the reporting requirement meaningful.’

    It begs the question what are those practical actions which might improving disability inclusion at work? Amy joined me by video-link from Birmingham to discuss this and I suggested a review of recruitment procedures might be a good starting point: 
    Amy Hextell: “In particular I think it's important for employers to be to be taking action points and the first that I recommend is having a review of, not necessarily just recruitment processes, although there perhaps could be a focus on that,  but also, perhaps, promotion processes as well. I think it's important to ensure that the processes that you have in place are truly inclusive for those that have disabilities. Now, obvious things might be making changes to physical accessibility, if you're holding an interview in person, but less obvious things might be doing away with the need for an interview in the first place, so do we really need an interview if that's going to put somebody with a disability at a particular disadvantage or are there other ways that you can assess somebody's strengths and development areas and whether they're a suitable candidate for the role? I think what's really important to remember is that even before you've employed somebody, if somebody is an applicant, and before you've made them an offer, there is that duty to make reasonable adjustments which includes making adjustments to the recruitment process. So that's certainly one thing to look at. Another thing, and it's gained a bit of momentum as a result of the pandemic, is making sure that the language that is being used within the organisation is truly inclusive as well. So often, what we get is employees, and organisations, saying that there's a bit of a fear around using the wrong language so an important step employers could take is to actually be open and publicise the sort of language, the do's and don'ts that you might use. A starting place might be what well, how do you refer to somebody with a disability? There’s a lot of stuff around ‘suffering’ with a disability, and whether that's correct or not, the suggestion being that it probably isn't, and instead you would describe somebody is having a disability or, living as a disabled person.”

    Joe Glavina: “You say in your article that employers should consider whether to implement a disability allyship initiative. Tell me about that.”

    Amy Hextell: “Yes, this is an interesting one and I think that this actually could be not a quick win but somewhere where many employers will have already done a lot of groundwork because, of course, allyship, and that initiative, is something that's been really prominent in relation to the LGBTQ+ area of diversity and inclusion. The idea is that people who themselves don't identify necessarily with that protected characteristic, so non-disabled people, are incorporated and involved in disability networking initiatives and things like that, such that they have a better understanding of the kinds of challenges and barriers and the general discourse around disability, and that they're able to act as allies, whether that be supporting disabled colleagues, calling out inappropriate behaviour in relation to disability and that sort of thing. So that might be something where a scheme you already have in place in respect of one group could be fairly easily replicated in respect of disability.”

    Joe Glavina: “You say employers should consider whether ‘proximity bias’ exists in their organisation and, if so, they should address it. What do you mean by that?”

    Amy Hextell: “Yes this is probably a new one as a result of the pandemic and whilst I appreciate not every organisation has had people working away from an office location, that that has been the case for many and, in particular, those with disabilities may be more inclined to either prefer to work from home. Perhaps, again, it's around a physical accessibility issue, or a particular vulnerability they have to COVID-19, or a mental health disability which has meant that they're anxious about coming into the office, travelling on public transport, and so there may be more likely to work away from the office or in a remote way. So there’s a difficulty, I think, with this issue of proximity bias which means favouring, and essentially exercising bias in favour of, those who you are closest to. So if actually you're physically sitting in an office next to somebody it's a lot easier to give that new piece of work to them, see the work that they're doing and perhaps consider them for a promotion and forgetting about those who aren't present, the likelihood being that some of those who aren't present are more likely to perhaps have a disability or health condition which means that they're not able to come into the workplace. So something definitely that employers should be conscious of.”

    The government’s consultation on disability workforce reporting will be running until 25 March and you can have your say. The document itself sets out the different ways you can respond, including by way of an online survey. We have put a link to the consultation paper in the transcript of this programme. 

    - Link to government’s consultation on disability workforce reporting

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