Homeworking as a reasonable adjustment in post-COVID local government workplaces

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2021 Virtual Special Local Government Service Group Conference
8 April 2021

Conference notes that many disabled staff in local government have previously requested to work from home as a reasonable adjustment and been refused. However Covid-19 has sparked a revolution in home working and as a union we need to build on the positives for disabled workers whilst also guarding against any detrimental impact.

UNISON�s National Disabled Members Committee carried out a survey of disabled members at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in June 2020. 5,000 disabled members responded, including members working in the local government service group. The survey found:

1)50% of disabled members were working from home, compared to just 5% before the pandemic;

2)73% said they were more productive or as productive compared to being in the workplace;

3)Many reported having to take less time off sick;

4)The reasons for increased productivity and reduced sickness absence included being better able to manage their pain at home, able to take short breaks or work a more flexible day with later start and finish times, and not having to make a long commute that impacted on their impairments;

5)54% of disabled workers said they wanted to continue to work from home after Covid-19;

6)However 37% said their employer was likely to refuse to allow them to continue to work from home.

Conference notes that there have been some examples of best practice in the local government service group, with many disabled staff given the tools and resources they need to work from home during the pandemic and a growing realisation from many employers that they need to allow more staff to work from home in a post-pandemic world.

Many local government employers have also ensured that staff have the same adjustments at home as they have at work � or have provided additional adjustments required for home working.

Nonetheless, there remain local government employers who are reluctant to allow home working in the future for disabled workers who need it as a reasonable adjustment. There are also employers who failed to transfer existing adjustments from the workplace or provide additional reasonable adjustments for staff working from home.

UNISON has a number of tools local government branches and stewards can use in arguing for homeworking as a reasonable adjustment including:

a)Our homeworking guide

b)Our two new �Stewards Guides� to representing disabled workers and representing deaf workers

However conference believes that in the post-pandemic world we need to negotiate with local government employers at a national level for a much stronger right to working from home for disabled workers who want it, and for the adjustments these staff require to make this a success.

Nonetheless, we must also protect disabled workers who want to return to the workplace from being forced to work from home in order to save the employer money or allow the employer to avoid ensuring accessible workplaces. Home working should be a choice for disabled workers, not a requirement.

The impact of home working on isolation and mental health also needs to be tackled and local government employers need to put additional safeguards in place to address virtual bullying and harassment.

Conference therefore calls on the local government service group executive to work with the National Disabled Members’ Committee to seek to:

i)Negotiate with national employers to produce stronger guidance on agreeing homeworking as a reasonable adjustment for disabled workers who want it, and on ensuring reasonable adjustments are provided for disabled home workers;

ii)Agree safeguards against disabled workers being forced to work from home against their will if this is not their preference;

iii)Achieve strengthened advice on supporting staff mental health whilst working from home and measures to tackle virtual bullying and harassment;

iv)Publicise UNISON�s Homeworking Guide to regions and branches;

v)Circulate the two new �Stewards Guides� to representing disabled and Deaf workers to regions and branches.