Negotiating disability leave policies with local government employers

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2019 Local Government Service Group Conference
19 February 2019

Disability leave is time off from work for a reason related to someone’s disability. It is an example of a reasonable adjustment which local government employers have a duty to provide to disabled staff under the Equality Act 2010. It is different to sick leave – in many cases the worker is not actually sick – and it can be planned or un-planned.

Not all disabled workers need to take disability leave. However those that do often find that local government employers refuse to acknowledge their legal duty. These workers can find that what should be counted as disability leave is instead logged as sick leave and they end up on a capability, with the potential to lose their job.

However, if jointly negotiated workplace policies are in place, then this can overcome this reluctance to recognise the right to disability leave as a reasonable adjustment by some local government employers and managers. Some local government employers have already agreed a disability leave policy and where this is done jointly with the union it can give guidance to both managers and staff and ensure fairness and consistency.

UNISON has produced bargaining guidance for branches to help negotiate with employers and this includes a model policy that local government employers can agree with the union. The guide gives some examples of disability leave including:

1)Rehabilitation training for a newly disabled worker learning to manage a condition

2)Cancer treatment and rehabilitation

3)Waiting for the employer to make reasonable adjustments

4)Assessment for conditions such as dyslexia

5)Counselling for a mental health problem

6)Period of sickness related to disability

UNISON’s key bargaining aims when negotiating with local government employers are that disability leave should be:

a)Paid leave

b)Counted separately to ordinary sick leave

c)Removed from trigger calculations in capability procedures etc.

d)There should be no maximum duration, the legal test is what is “reasonable”

Agreeing a disability leave policy with local government employers not only helps individual members and reduces the time our stewards spend on case work but it can also be a good news story about the benefits of collective bargaining to use in recruiting new members.

Conference therefore calls on the service group executive to:

i)Collect information from branches to identify existing policies on disability leave and share good practice

ii)Circulate the UNISON Disability Leave bargaining guide and model policy to branches and regions and urge them to raise and negotiate disability leave policies with their employers

iii)Support appropriate campaigns for disability leave to be a statutory requirement written into legislation.