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Disabled workers see home-working boost

Disabled employees working from home during lockdown say they’ve been more productive and took fewer days off sick than when they were doing their jobs in the office, according to a new survey.

The findings have led trade union, UNISON, to call on the UK government to give disabled people a new right to work from home if they wish and for employers to face penalties if they don’t comply.

Disabled employees should have the right under equality laws* to ‘reasonable adjustments’ to reduce the effect of their disability, says UNISON.

This includes working from home, but UNISON has been told by workers that many employers argue this doesn’t count as a reasonable change to their employment arrangements.

Figures released by the union, based on responses from more than 4,000 disabled workers across the UK, show that half worked from home during the Covid-19 crisis. This is a huge increase on the one in twenty (5%) who say they usually do this.

Workers responding to the survey are providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy, and employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

The survey found that nearly three quarters (73%) of disabled staff felt they were more productive or as productive working from home compared to their pre-lockdown place of work.

More than half (54%) felt they would benefit from working from home in the future, but nearly two in five (37%) believed their employer was unlikely to allow this.

UNISON says the findings show that many disabled workers are losing out by not being permitted to work from home.

However, the survey shows this arrangement can benefit employers as well as staff. Many of those who felt they were more productive working from home said they were taking fewer sick days as they were able to manage their condition better.

The ability to work flexibly, take short breaks to manage their health issues and easier toilet access were also reasons given by disabled people for working more productively and improving their wellbeing by working from home. They were also less likely to be exhausted and in pain from long commutes to work.

Many who felt they were less productive working from home said the reasons included a lack of reasonable adjustments to support them, such as adaptable keyboards and speech-to-text software.

More than half (53%) said they had received no reasonable adjustments from their employer to help them to work from home.

Only a minority (5%) had help from Access to Work, the government’s agency that funds adjustments for disabled workers.

UNISON has written to the English Chancellor calling for increased government funding so Access to Work can help more people to do their jobs from home.

UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said:

This survey shows working from home can be done easily and actually increases productivity.

The pandemic’s demonstrated that there’s no longer any excuse for employers to turn disabled workers down if they request to work from home.

But one size doesn’t fit all and home working should be a choice. Disabled employees should continue to have the right to ask for reasonable changes that allow them to remain in the workplace.

For those who want to do their job from home, it’s time to give disabled workers a new right to do so.

Founder Member of Campaign Collective, chair of the Public Relations & Communications Association Charity and Not-For-Profit Group. Write mainly about charity, public sector and social enterprise campaigns.