Protecting Disabled Employees: UK government calls for employee support overhaul

Back To Latest News

Transforming Support: The Health and Disability Whitepaper

The government’s whitepaper offers guidance on how businesses can report on and develop a diverse and inclusive working environment for people with disabilities. One of the main proposals is to remove the Work Capability Assessment mechanism in the hopes of encouraging disabled individuals not to see themselves as incapable of working. The idea is to instead give them confidence and the necessary support to be able to progress in or towards work, without the worry of being reassessed and losing their entitlement to disability-related benefits.

However, the whitepaper is already receiving backlash from disabled individuals. There has been criticism of the proposal to scrap the Work Capability Assessments. This is based on arguments that doing so will mean disabled people who would otherwise be assessed as not needing to carry out any work-related activity, will have to rely on the judgment of work coaches to determine what, if any, work-related activities they can participate in. The risk is that individuals with significant impairments or long-term health conditions may face strict conditions imposed by their work coach, including potential benefit sanctions if they are unable to meet them.

What does this mean for HR professionals?

The government’s proposals aim to put the spotlight on equality, diversity and inclusion and rightly so. However, the additional responsibility on HR professionals may put pressure on the individuals making the decision as to an employee’s readiness to return to work. These decisions are difficult to make, especially given that HR professionals don’t necessarily have medical expertise to help determine the right path in any scenario.

The government has suggested that it will work to “improve resources” for businesses to help them support and manage health and disability in the workplace, stating that detailed guidance will be provided and will include case studies to walk employers through how to handle these scenarios.

Nevertheless, the implementation of new rules in this area has the potential to lead to an increase in disability-related grievances and employment tribunal claims.

Reasonable adjustments and disability related grievances

Research from XpertHR has shown that over the last two years, nearly 30% of employers have seen the numbers of employee grievances rise. Alongside the backdrop of the whitepaper, recent government statistics have also shown that despite the number of disabled individuals in employment increasing, the disability employment gap still increased between July and September 2022.

The law requires employers to put in place reasonable adjustments for their employees that are put at a disadvantage because of their disability. When considering what adjustments to make, employers should be mindful to consider all reasonable adjustments before commencing any performance reviews, for example, employers should consider making additional adjustments to enable a disabled employee’s performance to improve.

This is a complex area of law, and deciding on and implementing reasonable adjustments is a balancing act for employers and HR professionals who need to work alongside the disabled individual to assess their needs and how they can assist. Getting this wrong can lead to employee dissatisfaction, grievances and possible costly employment tribunal claims.

If you are faced with a disability-related grievance, our team of experienced independent employment investigators can help. Please call us for an initial chat on 0808 196 3151 or learn more here.