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30 per cent of disabled workers treated unfairly during pandemic – TUC

Nearly one in three (30 per cent) disabled workers say that they’ve been treated unfairly at work during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new poll published by the TUC.

The survey – carried out by YouGov for the TUC – reveals that many disabled people report that they experienced significant barriers in the workplace before the pandemic, and that Covid-19 has made things worse for them.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, disabled workers were hugely underrepresented and underpaid in the labour market. The employment gap between disabled and non-disabled workers was 28 per cent. And disabled workers are paid 20 per cent less than non-disabled peers. 

Covid-19 risks undoing recent improvements in getting disabled people into work, and pushing disabled people back out of the labour market. Recent government figures show that redundancy rates are now 62 per cent higher for disabled workers 

Disabled workers told the TUC that their disability or shielding status meant they were treated unfairly, and worse than other colleagues during the pandemic. For example:

  • One in 13 (eight per cent) said they were subjected to bullying and/or harassment, being ignored or excluded, singled out for criticism or being monitored excessively at work.
  • One in eight (twelve per cent) said they were concerned their disability had affected their chances of a promotion in the future.
  • One in eight (13 per cent) said they were concerned their disability had affected how their performance would be assessed by their manager.

The poll also uncovered:

  • Shielding workers put at risk: More than one in five (21 per cent) shielding workers worked outside of their home most of the time – even though employers could use furlough to protect shielding workers who could not do their jobs from home. 
  • Hostile workplaces: One in eight (12 per cent) disabled workers told the TUC that they have not told their employer about their disability or health condition, with many of these workers fearing being treated unfairly (24%) or even losing their job (21%) if they were open about their disability or health condition. 
  • Employers failing disabled workers: only just over half (55 per cent) of those who asked their employers for reasonable adjustments during the pandemic told the TUC that they had been made in full. Almost a third (30 per cent) said they didn’t get all their reasonable adjustments, and one in six (16 per cent) said they had none implemented. The law says every employer must make reasonable adjustments for disabled members of staff so they can do their job. These may be things like providing the right type of phone for someone who uses a hearing aid, replacing a desk chair with one designed for an employee who has a back condition, or simply allowing home working.
  • Unsafe workplaces: A quarter of disabled workers (25 per cent) said they felt unsafe at work during the pandemic due to the risk of catching/spreading the virus – and this rose to nearly one in three (30 per cent) among those who worked outside their homes throughout. Of those who face additional risk to Covid-19 due to their health condition/ disability, almost half (46 per cent) have not discussed these additional risks with their employer.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Before the pandemic, disabled workers were already up against huge barriers getting into and staying in work. Covid-19 has made it even worse. 

“Employers are failing disabled workers.  Many disabled and shielding workers felt unsafe at work during the pandemic. And too many disabled workers told us their boss is breaking the law by not giving them the adjustments they need.

“We saw with the last financial crisis that disabled people are all too often first in line for redundancy. As we recover from the pandemic, we can’t afford to reverse the vital progress that disabled people have made – in the workplace and in wider society.

“Ministers must act. We need proper enforcement of disabled workers’ rights to reasonable adjustments and safety at work, and a duty on employers to report and close the pay gap between disabled and non-disabled workers.” 

SMEs ‘must react’ to demand and support staff’s health and wellbeing remotely

The pandemic is specifically affecting SMEs in terms of health and wellbeing benefits and what employers can do to react to employees’ changing requirements, writes Brett Hill, Distribution Director at Towergate Health & Protection…

SMEs are missing out   

SMEs often feel more restricted when it comes to employee benefits in general and healthcare benefits in particular. Whether it is due to budgetary restrictions, lack of options, or scarcity of resources, SMEs may find that they are not able to offer valued employees the rewards they would like. There are, however, options available and SMEs have the advantage of being quick to respond and adapt.

Health and wellbeing behaviours have changed 

The pandemic has resulted in long-term changes in health and wellbeing behaviours, with the issue moving up the agenda for SMEs, as they are less able to cover sick leave and absence due to self-isolation. There has been a sea-change in attitudes regarding how healthcare is accessed, with many people now actively preferring to access care remotely.

The impact of the pandemic

During the pandemic, direct access to GPs has become more difficult, with face-to-face consultations discouraged. Now, and throughout the course of 2021, is a critical time when NHS GP practices across the country will be occupied with the roll out of the UK’s Covid vaccination programme. With all of these factors combined, statistics have shown that employees may be reticent to approach their GP, and many illnesses and conditions are going undiagnosed. For example, Macmillan Cancer Support reports that 50,000 people have missed out on a cancer diagnosis due to the strains put on the NHS by Covid-19.

Healthcare access for beyond the insured workforce 

The pandemic saw the rapid roll out of online GP services to private medical insurance (PMI) customers in the spring of 2020, with many employees discovering the great time- and money-saving benefits of a virtual appointment. However, not all employers can afford to provide every employee with PMI, so there is a need for an affordable way for SMEs to extend their healthcare and online GP access beyond their insured workforce.

Alternative options

There has been a wealth of recent developments in making health and wellbeing benefits more relevant and accessible, particularly for smaller companies. An increasing number of options are becoming available and it is important that SMEs are aware of new developments.

Many smaller companies offer cash plans: insurance policies to help cover the cost of everyday healthcare, like visits to the dentist, optician, or physiotherapist. New advancements now make the value of cash plans go even further and SMEs need to be on top of changes such as preferential rates for remote physiotherapy services, which provide enhanced value for employers and better outcomes for employees.

Online wellbeing support 

Many SMEs offer access to support via an employee assistance programme (EAP), which may be linked to PMI, group insurance or on a standalone basis. Remote clinical services are growing in terms of popularity and possibilities. As demand for mental health support has surged during the pandemic, so has the availability of online counselling sessions, which are now frequently conducted via video link, and can help improve the employee experience.

Remote clinical services

Likewise support for physical wellbeing is also now possible on screen. Even treatments as physical as physiotherapy are available to employees online. Remote private GP services are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, enabling employees to receive unlimited advice, reassurance and, where appropriate, diagnosis, private prescriptions, and open referrals, from a practising doctor from wherever they are at the time they need help, even if travelling abroad.

One of the benefits of working for an SME is the close working bond that employees can have, and this is reflected in how owners and managers look after their staff, often keen to extend support to family members and dependants. Online GP services help with this, as fast access to primary care can be extended to employees’ families.

Such a service has traditionally only been available to those employees insured on PMI or group risk insurance policies, but standalone options enable companies to extend this to the whole workforce.

‘Greater focus needed’ on fleet driver mental health during pandemic

Fleets need to be aware of the growing impact of the pandemic on mental health and any subsequent safety risks to drivers, FleetCheck is warning.

Peter Golding, Managing Director at the fleet software specialist, pointed to a new poll that showed 40% of people believed their mental health had become worse during the crisis.

He said: “This is just the latest in a series of polls and pieces of research showing how the last nine months have had a very negative effect on the mental health of many, many people.

“We know that mental health problems of all kinds can have an impact on driver performance on the road. With people saying that feelings of anxiety, stress and depression are particularly apparent, there is a genuine case for fleets to take action.

“Essentially, employers should be fulfilling their basic requirement of checking that drivers are fit to drive and of course, their mental wellbeing should arguably be as much part of this assessment as if they had a physical problem.

“It should be taken as a given that anyone who feels that their mental health has deteriorated to a point where they should not be driving should be taken seriously, and employers should also make it clear that such situations will be dealt with sympathetically.

“Probably the starting point for most fleets would be to seek professional human resources and medical guidance in order to ask drivers a few questions regularly in order to flag up any immediate issues that need attention.”

Golding added that FleetCheck was examining the introduction of basic mental health tools into its Vehicle Inspection App, which included not just daily walkaround safety checks but also incorporated questions about the driver’s health.

“We modified the app last year to cover coronavirus symptoms and now seems like a good moment to add further questions about mental health. We are taking advice and hope to be able to do this soon.” 

BESA outlines COVID-19 health & safety guidelines

The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) has published new guidance to help engineering and construction firms keep their staff safe in the light of new government restrictions.

The Association’s Covid-19 Panel has produced two new guidance documents providing clear and practical information about how to reduce the risk of virus transmission on-site and methods for carrying out risk assessments for workers who have to stay away from home.

The guidance is freely available and downloadable from the BESA website: www.theBESA.com/covid19.

“The new guides are all about prioritising workers and customer/client safety,” said BESA health & safety advisor Becky Crosland. “As we see a rise in the R number across the country, it is clear that the threat of infection from Covid-19 remains very much alive. It is, therefore, vital that businesses have robust procedures to safeguard against the risks employees face on-site and in domestic settings.”

She also reiterated the warning that the two-metre social distancing restriction remains in place on construction sites.

“Some people seem to think the two-metre restriction has been reduced to one metre – it has not. Infection risk is between and two and 10 times higher at one metre,” said Crosland. “If it is impossible to remain two metres apart, you should apply other controls like reducing the duration of time you spend together or avoiding face-to-face contact.”

The BESA Covid-19 panel has produced a comprehensive suite of guidance documents specifically for engineering and building services contractors since the start of the crisis delivering clear, concise information that prioritises worker and customer safety.

“Being able to work safely and reduce the risk of Covid-19 during any work is vital to stop the spread of the virus,” said Crosland. “The health, wellbeing and safety of both workers and customers must be a priority during the pandemic.”

All of the panel’s documents have been thoroughly researched, taking into account current government guidance, and providing a series of steps that any employer can put into practice.

“In uncertain times, it can often feel that your personal contribution is not making a difference,” said BESA Covid-19 panel member Rosie Newcombe from Royston Group.  “However by working with BESA and our partners across our sector, individual health and safety professionals have been able to collaborate and contribute positively by interpreting the latest government guidance to produce effective guidance notes and risk assessments.”