Exemptions from hot-desking – a reasonable adjustment for disabled workers

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2019 Local Government Service Group Conference
19 February 2019

Since 2010 local government has faced swingeing budget cuts as part of central government’s austerity agenda. This has led to many councils introducing hot-desking in order to reduce their premises costs. Workers no longer have a fixed desk but instead have to find an empty desk every day.

Conference is concerned about the impact of this practice on our disabled members who may have reasonable adjustments in place that do not fit in with hot-desking.

For example, having to set up your desk every day in a way that alleviates pain while working is likely to have the opposite effect. Moving chairs, desks, adapted computer and electronic equipment and footrests as well as having to adjust or find a desk every time you come back to the office, even if only for an hour, wastes time and money as well as causing pain and fatigue. Coming back to find your specially adapted chair has been altered by someone else whilst they’ve been using it, or changing desks every day or several times a day can trigger or exacerbate stress, anxiety or other mental health problems.

For deaf workers who use British sign language and need to sit next to their interpreter, hot-desking may not allow this. Deaf workers may also need to have a fixed desk which is in sight of a visible fire alarm signal.

For disabled women members experiencing the menopause, hot-desking may mean being forced to sit in a warmer part of the office. Where menopause is severe or exacerbates an existing disability, a fixed desk might be a reasonable adjustment.

The government’s guide to reasonable adjustments specifically states that exemptions to hot-desking can be a reasonable adjustment and local government employers therefore have a duty to provide this. The government guide gives the example of “allowing someone with social anxiety disorder to have their own desk instead of hot-desking”.

Conference notes UNISON’s updated guide ‘Proving Disability and Reasonable Adjustments’ which can be used to negotiate reasonable adjustments, including exemptions to hot-desking, with local government employers.

Conference welcomes UNISON’s new ‘Bargaining on Hot-desking Policies’ guide and further notes UNISON’s health and safety guidance which can be used to assess work stations. However, more work is needed to assess the impact of hot-desking on all of our local government members, including the potential link to work related stress, anxiety and other mental health problems.

Conference therefore calls on the service group executive to:

1)Investigate the impact of hot-desking on local government workers and on disabled workers in particular;

2)Circulate UNISON’s ‘Proving Disability and Reasonable Adjustments’ guide and the new ‘Bargaining for Hot-desking policies’ guide to branches and consider whether any further advice can be given to branches on negotiating for exemptions from hot-desking for disabled members in local government;

3)Publicise UNISON’s guides ‘The Menopause and Work’ and ‘Disability and Health and Safety’.