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The “added value” of a diverse workplace

When an employee says that they are disabled or have a long term health condition, some employers just don’t know what to do. Unfortunately, there is a perception that adjustments cost £1000s and that there will be significant additional costs associated with employing disabled people. But, this is often not the case. Indeed, research has shown that disabled employees are just as productive as their non-disabled colleagues. They also have less time off sick, fewer accidents and they stay in their jobs longer.


Here are just some of the advantages of a diverse workforce:


Staff recruitment

Having an inclusive recruitment policy enables your business to tap into a wider range of job applicants for vacancies. It will also widen your choices regarding filling vacancies that require specific skills. Additionally, having a wider pool of talent will also ensure that you are more likely to gain a valuable employee.


Staff retention

BT estimates that employers can save more than £80,000 per employee by improving retention of staff who develop impairments or long-term health conditions. And as more than 70% of disabled people develop their impairment during their working life, there are huge financial and competitive benefits to keeping your valued, experienced staff. Additionally, when you consider that BT, Poundland and the Post Office have all reported that disabled staff are more likely to remain with your company for longer, the economic benefits speak for themselves.


Customer understanding and engagement

Ensuring that your business is accessible to disabled employees will, in turn, enhance your understanding of your customer base. It will give you the opportunity to increase take-up of your products and services, as well as to retain valuable clients as they become older. After all, disabled people and their families are estimated to have over £249 billion spending power!

Our top 10 tips

So, what are the practical things that you can do? Well, here are our top 10 tips, based on typical situations, that may assist you.


During recruitment

1) A prospective candidate has declared an impairment in the application form or when they were invited for interview. S/he met the criteria and I want to interview. What do I do?

In your letter or telephone call to attend the interview, you should always ask if someone requires adjustments to take part. The applicant may suggest things and offer to bring their own equipment, as often this adapted to their own requirements. Or they may say that no adjustments are needed.

2) I was told by a candidate that they have an impairment at the interview. What do I do?

It is very important that you do not make assumptions about someone based on their impairment. During the interview, the candidate may have suggestions as to how they will do work-based tasks. So, talking with the person and asking whether they require adjustments is a useful way forward. The applicant may suggest things, using their experience, such as particular pieces of equipment or Access to Work support.

3) I’ve just made a verbal offer and the candidate told me they have an impairment. What do I do?

You should talk with the candidate and always ask whether they will require any adjustments to enable them to carry out work tasks. We suggest you talk to your potential employee about what they think they need. Often disabled people are happy to suggest a way forward. You may suggest an assessment of the work station and support them to apply for assistance from the Access to Work Scheme (see point 9).

4) I’ve just made an offer in writing and the candidate told me they have an impairment. What do I do?

You should ask always whether the candidate will require adjustments to enable them to carry out their duties. It may be that they do not require any adjustments but have declared their impairment in order that you are aware. The prospective employee may suggest things and offer to use their experience and their own equipment until any new equipment is made available.


Supporting Existing Employees

5) What do I do if a very valued, long standing employee declares an impairment?

There are two important things to remember in this situation. Firstly, it is important to recognise the fact that the employee is still the same person they were before, with the knowledge and skills your business needs! You also need to remember that they are probably very concerned about your perceptions.

Listen and talk to the employee. The employee may have some ideas about moving forward. Do not be afraid to consider alternatives and different ways of working. It may involve simply moving things around or an adjustment that only costs between £50 and £400.

If you are not confident about how to best support your employee in this situation, please do not hesitate to contact us for advice.

6) My employee is disabled but has not asked for any adjustments. What should I consider as the employee is having difficulties doing tasks at work?

This is a difficult scenario. However, it can usually be resolved if you try and speak to the employee and hear their views about the situation. It is also useful to consider information which helps you to assess and implement any workplace adjustments, (such as changing working practices/tasks or offering flexible working hours, if possible).

There is a lot of useful information on the Equality and Human Rights Commission website about adjustments at www.equalityhumanrights.com/private-and-public-sector-guidance/employing-people/work-place-adjustments or if you are unsure, please get in touch with us.


7) After a long period of ill-health, my employee wants to return to work, but I am not sure?

We suggest you talk to your employee about what their requirements are. You should try to establish any support needs they have when carrying out work-based tasks. If they are frightened to talk, because they are worried they may lose their job, it may be useful for you to encourage a phased return to work and a workplace assessment. When the employee returns, we suggest you keep the communication open asking them if they need support and offering regular reviews.


8) What about health and safety?

Often there are no amendments to make as health and safety requirements are the same throughout the business, whatever the circumstances. For example, the rules about trailing wires, items blocking passageways, use of chemicals, wet floors, etc will apply throughout your business and not just to disabled employees.


Support for you as an employer

9) Is there any government support to assist us to meet the needs of our disabled employees?

Access to Work is a government scheme where a disabled person or an individual with long term health conditions can apply for funds to enable them to do certain tasks. Impairment related equipment or software, for example a Livescribe pen or speech recognition software may be awarded for someone with dyslexia, or a screen reader and magnifier may be recommended for someone with a visual impairment. Other examples of support provided includes an appropriate chair and workstation, or a session of disability awareness training for you or your management team, to support you as an employer.

We have answered the most frequently asked questions about Access to Work below. However, we also have a more detailed fact sheet available on our website at www.workhelpline.uk/employment-links.html or on request.


Do I have to pay for equipment suggested by Access to Work?

If you employ fewer than 50 workers, you will not have to pay for impairment related equipment. However, there may be equipment such as an adapted chair or desk suggested, where a share of the cost is required, as this has been assessed as a more suitable work station for the employee.


My employee tells me they are getting a support worker for 16 hours per week from Access to Work. What does this mean, and do I have to pay?

The employee has been assessed as needing a support worker’s assistance, for tasks they cannot do in their jobs because of their impairment. The support worker will not do the job for the employee nor will they do any jobs outside their remit of providing support directly to the employee with an impairment. The support worker costs are paid by Access to Work.


10) Is there an independent organisation I can talk to?

Yes. Work Helpline UK ( www.workhelpline.uk) is a joint initiative between the Association of Disabled Professionals and START Ability Services. We are independent organisations who have extensive experience in supporting all employers to maximise the inclusion of disabled people and people with long term health conditions in the workforce.


I understand my employee has had support from you. Can you help us too?

Yes, we can help and please don’t be afraid to ask for further advice. However, we would always ask for the employee’s permission in this situation, so that we can work together to find solutions.