As part of our series of articles to raise awareness of workplace health and disability issues in support of Disability History Month, today we focus on the importance and promotion of disability inclusion within the workplace.

Diversity and Inclusion has increasingly become a key priority for employers over recent years, with heightened recognition of not only the moral imperative in fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace, but also the business imperative. According to government statistics, around 13 per cent of the UK’s workforce has a disability. However, many companies still struggle with how to alter their business to ensure that disabled people are not disadvantaged at work.

Hiring a diverse range of employees is only the starting point. Establishing practical support and creating a culture of inclusivity are vital to truly support employees living with a disability.

Organisations have a legal duty under the Equality Act 2010 not to discriminate based on disability and to make reasonable adjustments in respect of disabled job applicants and employees. This duty arises where a disabled person would otherwise be subject to a substantial disadvantage by reason of a provision, criterion or practice of the employer, a physical feature of its work premises or its failure to provide an auxiliary aid.

However, ensuring true equity in hiring processes and in the workplace goes beyond the minimum legal obligations. The creation of a positive and inclusive workplace will not be achieved by simply having an appropriate policy in place.

Fostering an inclusive culture

Fostering a culture of openness, where differences and diversity are acknowledged and celebrated, will help all employees - including those with physical and mental disabilities - feel welcome and supported. There are a number of approaches businesses can take to build an open and inclusive culture, including:

  • ensuring that diversity training is provided to all staff. It is important to recognise that inclusivity should stem from the top of any organisation and from the beginning of employment. Employers should therefore encourage open discussions about disability inclusion and ensure managers know how to support disabled employees and job applicants through tailored training.
  • Attendance at diversity-related events and the creation of staff disability networks should be encouraged (and management-led where possible).
  • Asking for employee feedback through pulse surveys can also help ensure colleagues feel they can be open about any issues they may be having.
  • Business strategy meetings should include regular discussions regarding disability inclusion and analysis of staff diversity feedback.
  • Recruitment processes should be reviewed to ensure that any barriers to disabled candidates are removed.
  • Workplace diversity data should be recorded and monitored alongside any adjustment requests. Employee disclosure will be encouraged by being open as to why such information needs to be collected by the business. This is also important for data protection compliance purposes.

Practical support

As well as focussing on embedding an inclusive culture, it is paramount that employers support disabled job applicants and employees in practical ways, which might include the following:

  • Ensuring job adverts and recruitment processes are accessible to all.
  • Giving employees the opportunity to disclose any disabilities and ask for reasonable adjustments during the hiring process.
  • Adopting an open-minded approach to managing employees and their working patterns, including considering flexible working times where possible.
  • Obtaining occupational health reports to help assess and tailor adjustments for disabled employees. Adjustments may require to be made in the form of changes to certain processes, allowing increased flexibility or the provision of equipment.

Above all, employers should aim to provide an open, pro-active and supportive environment so job applicants and employees feel comfortable in asking for help or raising concerns. This approach will undoubtedly lead to accessing a wider talent pool, as well as wider business benefits including improved employee retention and welfare.

For more information on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, please contact:

Key Contacts

Gillian Hutchison

Gillian Hutchison

Managing Associate, Employment

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Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown

Legal Director, Employment
Edinburgh, UK

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