Disabled Women and Sickness Absence

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2019 National Disabled Members' Conference
11 July 2019
Carried as Amended

Conference notes that there are a number of chronic and long term conditions including gynaecological conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome and lichen sclerosis which primarily affect women in the workplace and can be covered by the protections in the Equality Act 2010. There are also a number of cancers that primarily target women and are covered from date of diagnosis by the Equality Act protections. Conference is also aware that some transgender men and non-binary people can also be affected by such conditions. Treatments to manage the symptoms of these conditions can have an impact on attendance at work. However workplace sickness absence policies often use inflexible trigger levels that don’t take account of these issues, setting off formal procedures that could ultimately lead to an unfair dismissal.

In addition, we have had anecdotal evidence of disabled pregnant women being impacted by notifiable disease regulations. Where medical exclusion is required, pregnant women should be given paid leave which does not count as part of the sickness absence procedures. However not all employers are aware of this. This can lead to disabled pregnant women being unfairly recorded as sick when they are not. These issues also impact other people who can become pregnant, such as transgender men and non-binary people.

Conference is also concerned by the general lack of understanding and support from employers when these conditions affect our disabled transgender colleagues. There is no single way to transition, and different trans people will undergo different medical and surgical procedures. This means that transgender people may remain susceptible to conditions usually affecting their sex assigned at birth, yet many employers fail to recognise this.”

Conference further notes that the government has never enacted Section 14 of the Equality Act which would allow disabled women to take unfair dismissal and discrimination cases based on combined discrimination.

Conference instructs the National Disabled Members Committee to:

1)Raise awareness of conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome, lichen sclerosis and other conditions primarily affecting women and how this can affect attendance at work in conjunction with relevant charities that specialise in these areas.

2)Continue to publicise UNISON’s ‘Disability Leave Bargaining Guide and model policy’ and to call on service groups, regions and branches to seek ways of putting this on local bargaining agendas with employers

3)Campaign for absence due to infection control of notifiable diseases not to be classified as sickness and ensure such time off doesn’t count towards the absence triggers

4)Campaign for the enactment of Section 14 of the Equality Act 2010 on combined discrimination.

5) Liaise with the National LGBT+ Committee to increase understanding of how these issues also affect our transgender and non-binary disabled members and include this in the work being undertaken on these issues.