Disabled people are still facing a “bleak picture” in their struggle to secure the support they need in the workplace, according to a new report from the equality watchdog.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report, A Perfect Partnership, says awareness of disability rights is still low, and disclosing an impairment to an employer is seen as “a high risk strategy” by many disabled workers.
Disabled people have told the EHRC of “bullying and harassment and not fitting the image”, while others said that “reasonable adjustments are sometimes resented by managers and colleagues”.
The EHRC says in the report that evidence suggests “a bleak picture of individuals often isolated and struggling to assert their rights and to access support, many of whom suffer for a number of years”.
The report says that closing the “employment gap” between disabled and non-disabled workers – the difference between the proportion of disabled and non-disabled people in work – can improve performance across an organisation.
Only half of disabled adults are in work, compared with four-fifths of non-disabled adults, and the report warns that the gap could widen as a result of public sector job cuts.
Among the solutions suggested by disabled people were more supportive managers, flexible working, and support and understanding from colleagues, but “virtually no-one had been offered these things”.
Employers told the EHRC that disabled people often only disclosed their impairments “when something goes wrong in the workplace and then it was often too late for a quick solution to be found”.
And most employers recognised that line managers played a crucial role in resolving problems but were often left “isolated and left to sort out adjustments”.
Among the report’s recommendations, it calls for employers to be more proactive in anticipating support, for example by seeking information from all new job starters, even from those who are not disabled, and for improved training and guidance for managers.
The report also recommends that flexible working is offered to all disabled workers and job applicants, and that the Access to Work scheme is extended – as recommended by last year’s review of employment support by Liz Sayce.
And it says that employers must make clear that there is “zero tolerance of hostility and harassment” in the workplace.