Accessing reasonable adjustments during Covid-19

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2021 Virtual Special Local Government Service Group Conference
8 April 2021

Conference notes that a UNISON survey of disabled members working from home during Covid-19, including local government workers, found that 53% did not receive any reasonable adjustments from their employer to help them to overcome the barriers they faced as a disabled person working from home.

Only 5% had help from Access to Work, the flagship government scheme which helps identify and fund adjustments. 41% did not know about Access to Work and 23% did not think Access to Work could help with working from home.

As a result of these findings, UNISON wrote to the chancellor in July 2020 asking for increased investment in Access to Work and for its extension to cover equipment required for homeworking. UNISON followed this up with meetings with civil servants. Conference welcomes the subsequent announcement by government in August 2020 that Access to Work would receive further investment and be extended to include home working.

However, there is still far too little awareness of Access to Work by both staff and employers covered by the local government service group, as was highlighted by the experience of our members during Covid-19.

Many local government workers struggled to get the adjustments they needed at home. Some had to use ironing boards instead of adjustable desks, had to buy their own monitors and head sets, were unable to access virtual meetings and thus isolated from the rest of their colleagues, or had to manage the pain caused by unsuitable dining room chairs.

�Long Covid� has also affected disabled workers who are being chased through punitive sickness absence procedures by their employers. Some previously non-disabled workers may now be covered by the Equality Act 2010 which gives a right to reasonable adjustments to people whose symptoms have a significant impact on normal daily activities and have lasted or are likely to last 12 months or more. However, conference does not have confidence that all local government managers will accept this duty.

Conference believes that one way to ensure employers take seriously their responsibility to provide reasonable adjustments is to agree an �Accessibility Passport� system. This allows adjustments to be agreed once without the need for stewards to argue the case every time the worker gets a new manager or changes teams.

Some local government employers have implemented a passport system for reasonable adjustments. However others do not have a passport system and staff struggled during Covid-19 to get the adjustments they needed for home working.

UNISON has produced a Reasonable Adjustments Bargaining Guide which includes a template passport that can be adopted by local government employers. Key to UNISON�s bargaining guide is that the employer should respond to requests for adjustments within a specified timescale and should also agree a timetable for implementing adjustments, overcoming the twin issues of our members receiving no response to their request or waiting years for agreed adjustments to be put in place. The guide also includes frequently asked questions that can help local government employers understand the benefits of a passport system.

Conference further notes that UNISON has also published a Quick Guide to Access to Work which can be shared with local government members.

Conference therefore calls on the Local Government Service Group Executive to:

1)Raise the inconsistency of access to reasonable adjustments during Covid-19 with the employers on national and sector-wide levels, seeking ways to ensure there is a more joined up approach in future;

2)Publicise the government�s Access to Work scheme to members and branches in local government, using the UNISON guide;

3)Seek to negotiate with employers both nationally and locally via regions and branches, to discount sickness absence �triggers� for workers with �Long COVID� and to work towards clear acknowledgement by the employers of the right to reasonable adjustments where the Equality Act applies;

4)Circulate UNISON�s Reasonable Adjustments and Accessibility Passport Bargaining Guide to regions and branches and encourage them to include achieving an accessibility passport agreement with the employer as part of their local bargaining agenda;

5)Encourage branches to share successfully negotiated passport agreements and best practise on reasonable adjustments agreed during COVID-19 with UNISON�s bargaining support unit so that other branches can learn from them.