The TUC is calling for action to make it easier for disabled people to work from home, after a huge majority of those who have done so during the pandemic said they wanted to continue being able to do so.
A YouGov poll for the TUC found nine in 10 disabled workers surveyed who worked from home during the pandemic wanted to carry on doing so, at least some of the time.
Nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of those had worked from home said it had given them greater control over their working hours, while two-fifths said it had reduced their tiredness and fatigue.
In a report, the TUC says there was widespread anecdotal evidence – before the pandemic – of disabled people being denied the opportunity of working from home, and other requests for flexible working.
This is despite employers’ duties under the Equality Act to make reasonable adjustments for disabled workers who face barriers in the workplace.
But many of those questioned in the survey said they had lacked the basic equipment that would allow them to do their jobs at home during the pandemic.
More than a third (34 per cent) lacked proper office equipment such as a desk, chair or computer, while one in 11 disabled workers (nine per cent) who worked from home experienced impairment-related difficulties in taking part in online meetings.
Nearly a third (30 per cent) said their mental health had worsened because of working from home during the pandemic, while 26 per cent said it had improved.
Those who said it had worsened were twice as likely to say they lacked proper office equipment compared to those whose mental health had improved (50 per cent versus 25 per cent) and were more than twice as likely to have experienced impairment-related difficulties in taking part in online meetings (17 per cent versus seven per cent).
But despite these challenges, nearly all disabled workers (90 per cent) who had worked from home during the pandemic wanted to continue doing so in some form, at least part of the time.
The report says proposed government reforms – currently out for consultation – would do little to change the current “weak and fundamentally flawed approach” to the right to request flexible working.
Instead, it says, the government should ensure that disabled workers who have worked from home during the pandemic can continue to do so, and that disabled workers are not penalised for accessing flexible working as a reasonable adjustment, by making flexible working the norm in all workplaces.
And it calls on the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to update its code of practice on employment to include more good practice examples of reasonable adjustments, including working from home and the provision of appropriate equipment and software.
It also says the commission should receive more funding to carry out “targeted enforcement” of workers’ rights to reasonable adjustments.
The report also calls on employers to review their policies and ensure they comply with their duty to make reasonable adjustments – including offering working from home and flexible work patterns – “as soon as is possible”.
Amy Bishop, a member of the TUC’s disabled workers’ committee, said the research showed that “when disabled people are given the equipment they need, working from home can be hugely beneficial”, as was shown by the pandemic.
She said: “We need to ensure disabled workers have their reasonable adjustments put in place in a timely manner, and remind employers that adjustments can also include changes to working hours and location.”
She added: “Personally, I have been lucky to work for a supportive employer who has enabled me to work flexible hours and partially from home for a number of years.
“This enables me to manage my pain, nausea and fatigue levels as well as my artificial nutrition, much more easily than if I was having to travel into the office every working day.
“Working in this way has kept me in work despite multiple health challenges during this time.
“The difficulty is if I ever wanted to work in a different role or for a different organisation; job adverts just don’t include options for flexibility, making it very difficult to find anything suitable.
“This equally applies to those disabled people who want to enter or re-enter the workforce; society does not make it easy to find suitable, good work.”
Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said: “During the pandemic, many disabled people were able to work flexibly or from home for the first time – often after being previously told that it was not possible in their job.
“Even amid the grief and isolation of the pandemic, these changed working patterns improved the experience of many disabled people at work.
“We can’t go back.”
An EHRC spokesperson said the commission welcomed the “recognition that additional funding would help us carry out our important work to tackle discrimination and disadvantage” but did not agree that the code of practice needed to be updated.
She said: “We have long said that flexible working, including working from home, is a useful reasonable adjustment to help disabled people to access and stay in work.
“The pandemic has shown that flexible working is possible for many jobs.
“It should be a day-one right for everyone, except for a genuine business reason.
“We already have clear guidance for employers on how to make reasonable adjustments for their staff, including home working.”
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