Return to the Office 2022: Making It Accessible for Disabled Staff/Employees

Written by Rachel Blythe
Last updated Thursday July 21 2022

After the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers are making the long-awaited return to the office. After 2 years of remote working and hybrid working, many companies are keen to have all of their staff back in the office, just as it was pre-pandemic. 

But, do all employees want this?

It appears that no, no they don’t

How you manage this return to the office will be very important. It will be particularly important for the safety, well-being and inclusion of your disabled members of staff. In this blog, we want to talk about how you manage this transition in the best possible way for your disabled employees. 

It is important to treat disabled staff with respect and care. At Careers with Disabilities, this is our top priority. That is why we have created this blog to discuss this central issue of returning to the office. We have done this to support employers in transitioning their disabled staff back to office working in the most accessible way possible. 

The Covid Context

Many people have become very comfortable with working at home over the course of the pandemic. Many are not ready for this to be taken away just yet. For a lot of people, working at home has had more benefits than working in the office. Including a better work-life balance and money saved from a lack of commuting, for example.

An important community that has particularly benefited from the work at home movement has been the disabled community. 

Working from home has a lot to offer disabled people, and we have another blog entirely dedicated to that topic, right here

Not every disabled person in the U.K. wants to work from home and not every disabled person feels that they do get more benefits from working from home than in the office, so it’s important to remember not to tar everyone with the same brush. But 9 out of 10 disabled people do want to continue to work from home, so, it is definitely a majority vote. 

With that in mind, even approaching the subject of returning to the office with your disabled staff is something that needs to be handled with care. 

It also is important to remember that the COVID-19 pandemic was particularly harmful and distressing for disabled people. More disabled people died than non-disabled people at each and every wave of the pandemic. It is completely understandable that disabled people would have reservations about returning to a shared working space after such a period of time. 

Carrying Out a Safe Return to the Office for Disabled Employees

The bottom line is that any return to the office needs to be handled with the utmost level of care. The following three sections of this blog will outline how we believe this return can be managed most appropriately for your disabled workers so that you may uphold this level of care at every step.

  • Open Communication 

It is vital that you communicate openly and accessibly with all your disabled employees. Especially when it comes to a topic like returning to the office. 

Nearly 1 in 3 disabled workers said that they were treated unfairly by their employers over the course of the pandemic. A notable aspect of this unfair treatment was the feeling of “being excluded or ignored” in the workplace. 

If you want to transition your staff back to the office in a way that is accessible and inclusive for your disabled employees, you need to talk to them and listen to them. Unless we listen to disabled people’s direct points of view, there is no way that we will be able to provide the resources and support that they need. 

If we try and guess what our disabled workers will want or we don’t think even think about what they need, we are discriminating against them and putting them at risk. 

We need to listen first and act second.

  • Respect For Choice

When it comes to returning to the office, the decision needs to be about what is best for everyone. Yes, there might be benefits for you as a company to have all of your employees back in the office. Many employers are indeed showing that they want their staff back five full days a week. But studies show that a lot of employees aren’t sure why they are being asked back to the office in the first place and many of them simply don’t want to return.

For disabled people, it is about more than personal preference. 

Working from home can allow disabled people to better manage their own health conditions, to be more comfortable while working, and take more time to rest without the time of commuting to and from an office, which significantly aids the management of their disability. 

Studies are now also showing that working from home does not reduce productivity. So, if disabled people are benefiting from working from home and they are still being productive. Do they absolutely need to return to office work?

The best thing that employers can do for disabled employees is offering a choice. As we mentioned previously, some employees won’t want to stay at home and that is ok too. The easiest way to make sure everyone is equally cared for and catered to is to offer a choice between remote and office working, maybe with some options for a middle ground in between. Some companies are finding options such as hybrid and rota-based models for working the best post-pandemic.

  • Reasonable Adjustments

Reasonable Adjustments are required to be made by employers under The Equality Act of 2010. The law requires employers to provide the access and support that disabled workers need to do their work to the same standards as non-disabled workers. 

There are many different things that can count as reasonable adjustments, such as:

  • extra equipment
  • installing lifts
  • ramp access
  • providing interpreters
  • offering hybrid models of working

When you want to bring disabled members of staff back to the office, you will need to make the appropriate Reasonable Adjustments for them to appropriately do so. If not, you could be discriminating against them on the basis of their disability. 

If there are adjustments that you feel you cannot make for your employee, the Access To Work scheme can help you financially. 

Employers need to give disabled workers the support they need. So make so that you know all of your options before making a decision.

You can bring disabled workers back to the office but it needs to be done with care, attention, and respect. Remembering to keep an open dialogue, offer choices, and provide the appropriate Reasonable Adjustments will help keep everything safe and accessible.

If you would like to know more about becoming a Disability-Friendly employer, check out the guidance on our website. You can also look at the packages we offer employers to help them connect with disabled people across the U.K.

Being an accessible employer is the way forward. Why not start today?

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Last Updated: Thursday July 21 2022

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