By refusing to make reasonable workplace adjustments and placing shielding workers at risk of covid-19 infections, UK employers are failing the disabled members of their workforces, a new poll has found.
The survey carried out by YouGov revealed that the novel coronavirus had exacerbated existing barriers to disabled people in the workplace with nearly one in three (30%) workers claiming to have been treated unfairly at work during the pandemic.
Before the crisis, the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled workers stood at 28%, with disabled workers paid 20% less than non-disabled peers, around £3,800 per year, according to research conducted by the TUC in October 2020.
Disabled women faced the biggest pay gap being paid on average 36% a year (around £6,700) less than non-disabled men.
Now unions fear covid-19 risks pushing disabled workers out of the labour market.
February figures from the Office of National Statistics show that redundancy rates are now 62% higher for disabled workers. A similar trend has been noted in the United States.
Disabled workers reported how their disability or shielding status meant they were treated unfairly when compared with other colleagues during the pandemic.
Around one in 13 (8%) respondents said they were subjected to bullying or harassment, being ignored or excluded, singled out for criticism, or being monitored excessively at work. A similar figure (7%) had their commitment to their job questioned.
One in eight (12%) said they were concerned their disability had affected their chances of a promotion, while a similar number (13%) said they were concerned their disability had affected how their performance would be assessed by their manager.
The poll also uncovered that more than one in five (21%) shielding workers worked outside of their home most of the time. This is despite employers able to use furlough to protect employees who could not do their jobs from home.
One in eight (12%) disabled workers said they have not told their employer about their disability or health condition, with many worried about being treated unfairly (24%) or even losing their job (21%) if they were open about their disability or health condition.
As we recover from the pandemic, we can’t afford to reverse the vital progress that disabled people have made
The Equality Act 2010 requires UK employers to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees so they can do their job. These range from providing the right type of phone for those who use hearing aids, providing ergonomic furniture for workers with back conditions, or simply allowing home working.
Despite this requirement, just over half (55%) of workers who asked received all requested reasonable adjustments during the pandemic. Almost one-third (30%) had some but not all requested adjustments made, while one in six (16%) said none of their requests had been implemented.
Moreover, one-quarter of disabled workers said they felt unsafe at work due to the risk of catching or spreading the virus. This figure rose to nearly one in three (30%) among those who worked outside their homes throughout the pandemic.
Of those who face additional dangers to covid-19 due to their health condition or disability, almost half (46%) have not discussed these additional risks with their employer.
“Employers are failing disabled workers,” said TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady. “Many disabled and shielding workers felt unsafe at work during the pandemic. And too many disabled workers told us their boss is breaking the law by not giving them the adjustments they need.
“We saw with the last financial crisis that disabled people are all too often first in line for redundancy. As we recover from the pandemic, we can’t afford to reverse the vital progress that disabled people have made – in the workplace and in wider society.”
In last month’s Queen’s Speech, Boris Johnson’s government promised to release a long-awaited national strategy for disabled People.
Unions argue that any new strategy should include mandatory disability pay gap reporting for all employers with more than 50 employees and stronger enforcement of disabled workers’ rights to reasonable adjustments.