Out-Law News

Half of firms don’t report on number of employees with disabilities they employ

Amy Hextell tells HRNews about improving disability inclusion in the workplace


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  • Transcript

    Almost half of employers don’t report on the number of people with disabilities they employ. Research by industry body GRiD shows the figure stands at 46%, risking a worsening of the  disability employment gap. Whilst there is not yet a legal duty to count the numbers of disabled employees, employers are encouraged to do so on a voluntary basis.

    People Management covers this and reports that, of those businesses that do collect information on the proportion of people with disabilities in their workforce, a third (33%) do so to inform diversity and inclusion practices and initiatives. A further 30% use the data to track progress made on their initiatives, 17% do so to inform recruitment practice and 16% to inform talent management practice.

    The government does not currently mandate disability reporting but it is a possibility for the future. Commenting on that, Katharine Moxham, speaking for research group, makes some good points. She says: 

    “If and when reporting is made mandatory, it is likely to be for larger corporates initially, “but all employers need to have an understanding of the number of people they employ with a disability or long-term health condition, as the perceived wisdom is that what gets reported gets done”. 

    She adds: “This isn’t the type of support that employers should switch on or off dependent on budgets or the current zeitgeist. Support for existing disabled employees and future members of staff needs to be available and accessible in all places of work, all of the time. With the right support, employers will have access to a much wider pool of talent than perhaps they previously had and may attract a new cohort of highly motivated candidates offering the skills and knowledge that they need to benefit their business.”

    We agree, but the point we would add to that is make sure your initiatives also focus on workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities. That’s because remote working is now the norm and there’s a growing imperative to ensure fairness in employment generally, and recruitment in particular, and the role that digitisation can play in that. 

    That is a point we have been flagging to our clients recently and, earlier, one of our lawyers, Amy Hextell, joined me by video-link to discuss it:

    Amy Hextell: “We've seen a lot of talk about disability inclusion over the course of the pandemic and with the launch of the National Disability Strategy from the government there's a real focus on digital inclusion, which is including things like assistive and accessible technology, but also looking at ways in which we can support employees with disabilities to engage in a new world of working. I know it's not the case for everybody, but lots of people now are working in a different way where technology is a much greater part of their day to day experience and for those with disabilities this can be a real benefit because it does mean that they are able to engage in the world of work in a much more straightforward manner. It's not a panacea, absolutely. It's not a substitute for making changes to the physical world of work which are necessary. There is also a word of warning around the use of technology with those that have particular needs because it needs to be appropriate for their individual needs. So for example, the use of captioning, or transcripts, on certain software platforms is great but actually for those that perhaps use British sign language, or those with neurodiverse conditions who struggle to process information in that way, it probably isn't removing the disadvantage that they suffer. So there's lots of scope for technology and digital transformation to support disabled employees in the world of work but there is a word of caution around making sure that it's appropriately in place for their needs and I think that is where employers need to be putting a bit of time and effort into exploring that.”

    Joe Glavina: “In the last few weeks this subject has been getting a lot of press attention – a lot of talk about home working and new technologies. What’s the legal imperative here for employers?”

    Amy Hextell: “The reason this is particularly important at the moment for employers is because there very firmly is still a duty to make reasonable adjustments which is placed very firmly on employers. It's not incumbent on employees to be raising these issues with employers, it's a duty that the employer has to discharge when they're aware that an employee has a disability and they are placed at a disadvantage. So I think now is a really good opportunity now that things are perhaps settling down slightly in respect of the pandemic and we're all well versed in the use of technology. It's an opportunity now for employers to be meeting on an individual basis with disabled employees to understand how they're working, whether that's working well for them, whether the adjustments that are already in place are still appropriate, or whether there might be other adjustments that are necessary. Those other adjustments might be, for example, things that are associated with the use of technology. I think things have moved on so much in that space over the course of the last couple of years that there are probably things employers could, and should, be doing now to meet that legal duty to make adjustments in respect to providing software and technology solutions that perhaps wouldn't have been reasonable pre-pandemic. So it's a really important thing to be looking at and it's something we're talking to clients a lot about.”

    Joe Glavina: “So what’s your message to employers, Amy? What should they be doing?”

    Amy Hextell: “I think one of the things that employers can be doing, and part of that, is having conversations with individuals, but it's carrying out adjustment audits which are where an employer will sit down with an employee, as I said, explaining and looking at adjustments that are in place and the way that the employee is working but, perhaps, in a more methodical way, looking at what tasks the employee does, how they may disadvantage that particular disabled employee, and how they may overcome that disadvantage and what adjustments might be reasonable, or not, in the circumstances. I think another area within adjustment audits and something that employers can be doing is looking at their recruitment practices because there's lots of data and survey response out there to suggest that particularly those with neurodiverse conditions are put at a disadvantage by traditional recruitment practices and part of an audit that an employer needs to do around adjustments - because, of course, the legal duty applies not only to employees but also to potential applicants, and to potential employees - is to audit those recruitment practices to see whether there are ways in which they could be adapted to remove disadvantage that disabled people may face. So that might, for example, be forgoing the need for a formal interview, or certainly an interview in person, and instead using technology to assess whether somebody is the best person for the role.”

    A couple of weeks ago, on 3 December, it was International Day of People with Disability, the UN-sanctioned event held on that date every year. The theme this year was: ‘transformative solutions for inclusive development: the role of innovation in fuelling an accessible and equitable world’, focused on ways employers can better support their employees in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. On the back of that, our team has prepared a detailed analysis piece with guidance and suggestions for  large employers particularly, which you may find useful. That’s ‘Re-imagining the post-Covid workplace to support employees with a disability’ and we have put a link to it in the transcript of this programme.

    - Link to Out-Law analysis: ‘Re-imagining the post-Covid workplace to support employees with a disability’

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