Are Employers Doing Enough to Support Disabled Employees?

As the definition of disability is being redefined, a number of us are finding ourselves being pushed into this classification. It can come as a relief for some, especially those of us who spend the majority of our time at work. The disability “label” means our employers must follow certain guidelines when it comes to our employment. But are the guidelines themselves enough? And are employers doing enough to support their disabled employees?

I work full time. I’m supposed to work 9 to 5 but end up doing much longer hours. I go into the office, tap away at a keyboard for seven hours and come home again, all in exchange for the comfort and safety of a monthly paycheck. It’s a simple thing, I work to be paid and they pay me to work, but what happens when my disability causes me to be unable to work?

There are a number of laws in place here in the U.K. which should protect me in the workplace. They cover everything from a fire escape plan to what rights I have in terms of leave (people with disabilities tend to need more time off work, it’s not their fault, it’s just the way it is) and plainly speaking, just how much employers have to put up with before they can turn their back on me and slam the door in my face.

Ever heard of the term “reasonable adjustment?” It gets thrown all over the place when I am in the midst of a flare-up. The idea of reasonable adjustments is to ensure that your employer makes “reasonable” adaptions and adjustments to both the workplace and job role itself in order to accommodate your disability. On paper, this seems positive — the employer knows they are legally obligated to adapt to you and your condition. The downfall? The use of the word “reasonable.”

“Reasonable” is not a definitive term. It is open for interpretation. This is turn causes complications as the interpretation of it depends completely on what your employer deems reasonable. You may have an employer who wants to move heaven and earth for you just to make sure you are well, comfortable and able to work happily and productively. On the other hand, you may have an employer who believes letting you go home half an hour early so you don’t miss your hospital appointment is reasonable enough.

I hate the term “reasonable adjustment.” I think it’s so loose, so completely undefined and it can cause so much stress. It’s basically a free pass for an employer to do as they like and further down the line claim that “reasonable adjustments” were put in place to manage your condition and enable you to work. To be frank, reasonable adjustments are not enough. The disability employment laws are not enough. If an employer simply follows these laws and does nothing else, they are doing the bare minimum to support and accommodate their disabled employees.

The laws themselves de-humanize the disability, causing disabled employees to be looked at as a checklist and nothing more. The laws do not require an employer to educate themselves on your condition and the impact that has on you, not just in the workplace but in general. We will spend most of our lives working, yet we are having to adapt our disabilities around our work. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Of course, not all employers do the bare minimum. I’m sure some of you are lucky to find yourselves working for decent, kind and understanding employers who allow you to deal with your disability in the best possible way. Shouldn’t this be true of all employers? Now that society’s attitude is slowly changing towards people with disabilities, shouldn’t that aspect of life be changing with it? Work can provide structure, routine and a sense of self-worth at times when it’s really hard to believe in yourself. I’m sure we all give back to our employers tenfold. We don’t want to be forced from the workplace, or made to feel like a nuisance, a complicated and time-wasting check box on the payroll.

Employers’ attitudes towards disability need to change radically. If they don’t, companies and businesses will be robbed of a valuable and dedicated workforce, and those with disabilities will be robbed of a career. Employers need to be educated and informed, a nearly impossible task if attempted individually. The disabled population needs to be given the tools, the backing and the confidence — the voice — to change these attitudes together. Otherwise we are all going to miss out.

Getty image by Gorodenkoff.

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