The COVID-19 pandemic had a huge impact on the U.K. workforce as a whole. Millions of people found themselves on furlough schemes, in redundancy, forced to enter entirely new sectors, and, able to work from home.
Working from home meant that people could easily isolate themselves from other people. People commuted less and interacted less with other people generally. All of this had the universal goal of trying to stop the spread of COVID-19 and thus bring an end to the dreadful pandemic.
Many employers gave disabled workers the option to work from home during the pandemic… or told them to. Much of that is continuing, but many employers are (or are about to start) taking it away. A return to the office culture is looming, but a return to the office isn’t what a lot of disabled people want.
In fact, 9 out of 10 disabled people want to continue working from home.
Let’s talk about why, in more detail.
How Work From Home Options Benefit Disabled People
Working from home during the pandemic highlighted its many advantages to many disabled people.
A study from UNISON found that 73% of disabled staff felt that they were more productive when working from home. Some of the direct comments made by participants in the study included:
- “Two weeks ago, I was up at 4 am in agony (with pain) …as I was working from home, I was able to do a full day’s work, and take a proper rest on my lunch.”
- “I have hearing loss in both ears. The quiet of the home enables me to hear and think more clearly”
- “I’m autistic and the office is a relentless sensory assault…At home, I can take regular breaks and work in a room that is totally quiet.”
In the majority, disabled workers felt they have more control of their work-life and work environment when working from home. This, in turn, is something that helps them both physically and mentally.
Some disabled people, such as disabled activist Ruby Jones, state that being able to work from home is what allows them to maintain a job entirely. Ruby, who has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, wrote in a Twitter thread entitled #MyAccessiblePandemic, “’I’m starting a hashtag to highlight how the pandemic has improved accessibility for disabled people. I’ll start: Working from home means I am able to work a full-time job without exhausting myself to the point of hospitalisation.”
It is important to note at this point that not every disabled person wants to work at home or feels that it benefits them. There are disabled people who find that there aren’t enough reasonable adjustments made for them to work at home comfortably, studies find. Others have called upon reasons such as childcare, neighbour issues, and general discomfort as to why they don’t want to work at home.
But we will come back to that a little later.
Is Working From Home a “Reasonable Adjustment”?
Under The Equality Act of 2010, we know that employers are required to make “reasonable adjustments” if needs be. This can particularly apply to disabled people who need reasonable adjustments to allow them to do their job.
Working from home is a reasonable adjustment and employers certainly deemed it as such during the pandemic.
However, 37% of disabled people who reported to the UNISON study stated that they didn’t believe their employer would allow them to work from home. A further 54% said their employers did not provide the necessary reasonable adjustments to allow them to work from home.
Working from home can offer disabled people a chance to work comfortably, manage their disability more comfortably, and even keep their jobs in instances they might not have otherwise been able to do so.
It is no coincidence that the disability employment gap has gotten smaller again in the last year or so after the initial tragedies of the pandemic (albeit with a long while to go yet).
And yet… It seems that many employers are not on board with giving this reasonable adjustment to the people who need it.
Frances Ryan of the Guardian puts it perfectly when she posits,
“Attempts to gain access for disabled people are often met with pushback: it’s too much trouble, too expensive or simply unnecessary. And yet lockdown showed that sweeping changes can be made practically overnight with little fuss. The question is, if it was done for non-disabled people then, why not disabled people now?”
How Can We Support Disabled People More Going Forward?
The aim is not to force all disabled people out of offices and into their homes. As we mentioned earlier in this blog, some disabled people don’t want to work from home.
The reasonable adjustment available should be the choice to work at home for all disabled people.
The TUC is calling for action for disabled people with these main points:
- Make sure that disabled workers who worked from home during the pandemic can continue to do so
- Unlock the flexibility in all jobs
- Make flexible working a genuine legal right from the first day in a job
- Make sure every disabled worker gets the reasonable adjustments they need to do their job
The TUC is calling on The Equality and Human Rights Commission to update its protocols. Their protocols around reasonable adjustments and how employers must implement them.
The bottom line is that we can do more to support disabled people at work and we should.
One of the best ways to do that right now seems to be by offering work from home options. Even post-pandemic. Working from home has so much to offer disabled people. It is no exaggeration to say that it can change their lives.
Offering working from home options as an employer can help to narrow the disability employment gap and change the lives of disabled people, all that it requires is an offering a choice. A choice that is both supported and respected.
The support and respect that disabled people in employment so rightfully deserve.
To find out more about what you can do to support disabled people as an employer, visit our website for details.
To find disability-friendly jobs and employers, check out our job board or get in touch directly for more information.