When an employer recruits a person with a disability, it is important that the right policies are in place and appropriate support is in place, with any adjustments reviewed regularly to ensure that the member of staff has every opportunity to be fully effective and develop in their role.  

It is also important to note that many economically active people of working age will become disabled or develop a long term condition during their working life. It therefore makes sense for employers to have an appropriate suite of policies to support these workers and knowledge about how to make reasonable adjustments.  

Disability Management Approach to retention

Best practice in retention means holding on to valuable employees, whether they have a disability or health condition, when they are first employed or acquire a disability during the course of their employment.

A disability management approach to retention should:

  • Increase the numbers of employees returning to work after a short or long-term absence
  • Reduce the costs associated with absence in the workplace
  • Improve productivity and employee morale
  • Avoid inadvertent discrimination towards employees with a disability
  • Avoid a negative approach, which focuses on irrelevant medical requirements or ‘getting rid of’ perceived problems

Benefits of retention and redeployment of staff

There are many benefits of retaining people who develop a disability or health condition during their working lives:

  • Many people with a disability have well-developed problem-solving skills that can be of benefit in the workplace. Living with a disability or a health condition often means dealing with difficulties as part of everyday life, using planning, negotiation and problem-solving skills. These types of flexible and transferable skills are incredibly valuable and can promote a problem-solving culture.
  • The cost of keeping an employee, by implementing a reasonable adjustment, will almost always cost far less than having to recruit and train a new employee.
  • Adjustments that are made for people with a disability or long term condition often benefit others – both employees and customers. As an organisation becomes more disability aware, these changes become part of mainstream activities – just the way things are done. This approach can make a business more responsive to their customers’ needs and creates a positive workplace culture that benefits everyone who works there.

With significant numbers of people who acquire a disability whilst in work, it is important to consider disabilities when managing sickness absence. People can acquire a disability not only as the result of a single traumatic injury (e.g. a road traffic accident), but also due to the development or deterioration of a condition. It is good practice to be proactive in relation to an employee’s absence and rehabilitation and to consider making reasonable adjustments before an employee’s condition would necessarily be considered a disability. This may help employees return to work earlier and save the costs of sickness absence and replacement staff.

There is a difference between sickness and disability-related absences. People with disabilities generally take no more or less sick leave than other employees. However, a minority, owing to the nature of their condition may need to take additional disability-related absences.

Managers need to bear in mind that an employee who has been absent from work for any length of time may feel very anxious about returning to work. This may be the case particularly if the absence has been the result of mental health issues. It is vital that the employer takes steps to ease the transition back into work. For example:

  • Arrange a social visit prior to the official return date of the employee.
  • Keep in contact, discussing fully any adjustments or supports that have been put in place.
  • Agree to a phased return where the employee can gradually increase their hours and / or duties.
  • Make sure the employee is not overloaded initially, although it is important that they are given meaningful work to do soon after their return.
  • Discuss with the individual if they would like any support explaining their absence to colleagues and how they would like any changes in the workplace to be explained.

There will be occasions when, after all reasonable adjustments have been made, an employee will be unable to carry out the duties in their post because of the effects of a disability or long term health condition. This situation may also occur where an individual has a disability that is stable, but the nature of their job changes significantly and they are not able to carry out the new duties even with reasonable adjustments.

Where there are no reasonable adjustments that would enable the person to stay in their original post, it is good practice to consider if there are any other posts that would be suitable. It would be a reasonable adjustment to transfer someone to a vacant post to allow them to be retained. However, the organisation does not have to ‘create’ a vacancy if there is not one available.

The following stages are suggested as a procedure to ensure that all options are considered. Ideally these should be written into a retention and redeployment policy to ensure that all supervisory staff are aware of their responsibilities. In any event, the stages are listed to present a potential outline of actions that may be considered by employers.

The most vital aspects of the retention and redeployment process are to ensure full consultation with the individual at all times throughout the process, and consideration of reasonable adjustments at all stages.

In general, the same arrangements, duties and requirements for redundancy will apply for employees with a disability as for employees without disabilities. However, it is essential to recognise that it can sometimes be easy to unintentionally discriminate against a person with a disability in these situations.

It is normal practice for a consultation process with employees to be undertaken when redundancies are being considered. Employers need to ensure that any arrangements which are made for consultation do not discriminate against an employee with a disability. It is vital to make sure that they have received the information in an appropriate format, can fully understand the proposals and have the same chance as any other employee to contribute to the consultation process.

Good practice for consultation
  • You should consider involving a representative for an employee who has a learning disability if they request help and to assist the individual to present feedback to management.
  • A person with a visual impairment should have any written information provided in large print or electronic format.
  • It is quite common practice to include number of days sickness absence as part of the selection criteria, for consideration for redundancy. However, if this includes absence caused by a person’s disability, this could potentially be seen as disability-related discrimination.
  • It would be considered good practice to allow an employee with a disability to have independent representation throughout this process.

Employees with a disability are covered by the same disciplinary policies as all other employees. However, care must be taken throughout the disciplinary process to ensure that the employee is able to fully participate in the disciplinary process and that there are no factors relating to a person’s disability that have led to the disciplinary action being taken; such as a person on the autistic spectrum misunderstanding of unwritten rules or codes of conduct.

Reasonable adjustments may need to be made when proceeding with disciplinary action or interviews in the same way as for other situations or procedures. It would be considered good practice to allow an employee with a disability to have independent representation throughout this process.