Coronavirus - guidance for disabled workers

Given the ongoing spread of the Coronavirus, we are providing generic guidance for members. You can find out more about rights for disabled workers in our guidance below.

During the COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis you may be asked to change the way you work. If you work in an office, you may be asked to work from home. Or your working patterns or practices may have changed. If you are a disabled worker, this could make things particularly difficult as some of the ways you normally adjust your working conditions might no longer be effective.

You are classed as a disabled worker if you are someone with a physical or mental impairment that has a substantive and long-term adverse effect on your ability to do normal day-to-day activities. Under the Equality Act 2010, your employer is obliged to make reasonable adjustments to remove, prevent or reduce any disadvantages you face. Your employer cannot charge you for any of these reasonable adjustments.

What has changed?

It’s important that you know that your right to reasonable adjustments to support you in your work has not gone away just because of the rapidly changing situation around coronavirus.

You may also find that the reasonable adjustments that you previously had are no longer effective, perhaps because of a change of working location, timings or practices. If that’s the case, then you should agree an update to your reasonable adjustments. It’s okay to explain that what you need has changed because of a change in circumstances.

If you haven’t previously needed to ask your employer for any reasonable adjustments, but now, because of a change in circumstances you do need to request reasonable adjustments, that’s also okay.

Although the law has not changed because of coronavirus, the definition of what is reasonable might have changed slightly. For example, before COVID-19, if a disabled worker needed specialist equipment fitted at home to enable them to work from home for the first time, that would likely have been considered reasonable for a worker to come around and fit it. However, under the current circumstances, it might not be safe for an appliance fitter to enter your home.

READ the new advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) on how employers should be continuing to support reasonable adjustments. Show this to your employer or your branch’s equalities rep if you are having problems.

Reasonable Adjustments

The law is very clear that one size doesn’t fit all- what are appropriate reasonable adjustments for you should be tailored to you and your specific needs. Take some time to think about what your tasks are day to day and what you think would make those tasks easier or allow you to participate more fully.

Although what adjustments you need are unique to you, here are some examples of some reasonable adjustments that have helped some disabled workers and may be relevant to you:

  • Having a sign language interpreter to join important calls
  • Installing text to speech software on your PC
  • Specialist equipment ordered to your home, for example, a special keyboard for a worker with arthritis
  • Changing meeting times
  • Working from home
  • Changing the timings of your working day
  • Specialist software for your computer
  • Being allowed extra time off to attend medical or counselling appointments
  • Putting flexible working in place
  • Your employer offering online counselling or mentoring
  • Making changes to the amount of sickness absence you may take
  • Modified performance targets
  • A phased return to work after sick leave

Keeping Track of Reasonable Adjustments

We recommend that you keep a record of the reasonable adjustments you have agreed with your manager. Doing so allows you to explain what barriers you face that stop you fully participating at work and explain what adjustments you think will make it easier for you to do so.

It’s helpful to keep a record, as if things change in future, for example you get a new manager, or your role changes, you have a record of what was agreed to refer to. This may mean you don’t have to go through the process of explaining your impairment and agreeing your reasonable adjustments again. It also helps your manager to understand what you need and how best to support you.

The TUC provides a useful document to help you keep track of your reasonable adjustments, called a Reasonable Adjustments Passport. Consider working through this document with your manager. For some people, your impairments might fluctuate over time, so the passport can be used to explain the short-term flexibility that you need.

Mental Health Disabilities

Remember that the law is clear that disability related to a mental health impairment is just as real as disability related to a physical impairment. The same entitlement to reasonable adjustment applies.

We have provided some more general guidance around mental health at this time here.

Extremely vulnerable individuals

Some people with underlying conditions are at very high risk from coronavirus. These people are being asked to shield- which means people who fall into this category should not leave their homes and minimise all non-essential contact with other members of their household.

You can read the most up to date government guidance about extremely vulnerable individuals here. This guidance has not changed with the gradual relaxation of lockdown- people in this category have been strongly advised not to go to work outside the home.

Most people who should be shielding have received a letter from the government. However, if you haven’t received a letter and think you should have, we advise you to contact your GP for guidance (using the telephone or online services).

Having a letter from your GP or from the NHS that states that you should be shielding can be helpful if you need to prove to your employer that you have been asked to shield.

Vulnerable individuals

People that have been classed by the government as vulnerable, but not extremely vulnerable, have been advised to take extra care in observing social distancing. The guidance states that you should be helped to work from home where possible, which may include in a suitable alternative role to your current role. If your employer were to refuse to let you work from home this could be unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

If it is not possible for you to work from home, then you should be offered the safest available roles- enabling you to stay 2m away from others. Your employer should undertake a risk assessment and consult with you on the adjustments.

The risk assessment should identify if there are additional steps your employer needs to take to reduce the risk from COVID-19. They should consider re-allocating some of your duties or providing you with additional PPE.

If you need advice or legal support, please contact Community’s service centre on 0800 389 6332  or by email servicecentre@community-tu.org

Useful resources

Protecting disabled people working from home – TUC resource

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