Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest some 2.5 million people were reported missing from the labour market between June and August 2022 because of long-term sickness, up from around 2 million in 2019.1
The government responded to these figures with a Health and Disability whitepaper, as well as new guidance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), covering how employers and managers can support people with long-term health conditions and disabilities at work.
But what is that new guidance? And what are your other HR and health and safety obligations towards people with long-term health conditions and disabilities in the workplace? Here’s what you need to know, consider and do as an employer when it comes to workers with long-term health conditions and disabilities, in order to stay compliant, retain your people, and boost productivity.
HR and employment law: what’s the law?
- Disability is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 - a long-term health condition might be considered a disability which is protected by the Equality Act in some cases, but that depends on a whole range of factors. So, to be safe, it’s best to give the same level of support to those with long-term health conditions as those with protected disabilities, and remember that everyone’s individual needs will be different.
- You may need to make reasonable adjustments - Under the Act, employers have a duty to make reasonable changes to working practices - including job application and interview processes and work equipment - so that people with disabilities are not substantially disadvantaged compared to their able-bodied colleagues. These are known as reasonable adjustments.
If you don’t meet these obligations and the employee brings a claim against you at an employment tribunal, things can get expensive.
Long-term health conditions: HR checklist
- Are your job descriptions and application forms accessible? i.e., large print, easy read, and Braille versions.
- Do you have alternative methods available to help people fill in application forms – like taster days or telephone interviews?
- Have you discussed how the candidate would like to approach and complete the interview, e.g. remotely or in person?
- Have you considered all participation needs for in-person interviews, like wheelchair accessibility, hearing loops, or computer access?
- Do you have an effective and clearly communicated sickness absence policy?
- Are you and your managers comfortable with how best to stay in touch with employees when on long-term absence? Does your process put an emphasis on being sensitive and supportive?
- Do you have a formal return-to-work strategy in place? Do you know how to conduct a return-to-work interview?
- Do you know what constitutes fair and lawful dismissal for someone who’s been, or will be, absent for a long period of time and may not be able to return to work?
- Do you have a bullying and harassment policy – including information on how you’ll handle complaints?
- Do you have an equality, diversity and inclusion policy?
- Have you checked all your policies to make sure they match up and don’t discriminate against anyone because of disability? These include:
- data protection (following UK GDPR)
- dress code
- flexible working
- social media
- training and development
- working hours
Have you trained employees and managers on:
- (for managers) knowing how to deal with grievances (such as discrimination complaints)?
- (for selected staff) being mental health first aiders?
- regular equality and diversity training?
These, backed up by the right policies and procedures, will help you make sure you’re providing a supportive and inclusive culture, and help retain your people. Find out why understanding your safety culture could go a long way to keeping employees safe, reducing costs and claims, and improving competitive advantage.
Health & safety: what’s the law?
- As an employer you are responsible for the health, safety and welfare of all of your employees, whether they have a disability or not.
- Workers don’t have to tell you they have a disability unless it could foreseeably affect the safety of themselves or anyone else connected to their work - if they don’t tell you and there are no obvious indicators of any disability, you’re not under any obligation to make workplace adjustments.
- You have a duty to consult with your employees (whether directly or through their representatives) on issues relating to Health & Safety – this needs to be inclusive and accessible for all workers.
Long-term health conditions: health & safety checklist
- Have you considered any additional risks faced by people with long-term health conditions or disabilities in your risk assessments? (You don’t automatically have to do a dedicated risk assessment for disabled workers or visitors but in some cases in might be necessary once you’ve reviewed your existing risk assessments.)
- Have you done a risk assessment on an employees’ return to work after long-term sickness absence to highlight any necessary changes?
- Based on your risk assessment and conversation with the employee, have you identified any suitable reasonable adjustments?
- Have you provided a timely response to any requests for workplace adjustments? Two weeks or less is recommended.
- Have you recorded any adjustments in a ‘passport’? This helps make sure they’re maintained, even if the worker moves jobs or line managers.
- Have you made sure you’ve reviewed any modifications to check they’re still fit for purpose?
How can we help?
Here at Marsh Commercial we’re more than just an insurance broker, we advise and provide practical solutions on all areas of operational risk* - including the provision of health and safety training and risk management.
Let us support you to operate more efficiently and profitably, while providing the evidence that insurers are increasingly requesting to see. Together, we can help reduce your insurance premiums, minimise your need to claim, avoid prolonged business disruption and most importantly, keep your employees safe.
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