COVID secure workplaces for Disabled Members working in community

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2022 Community Conference and Seminar
25 November 2021

Conference is concerned that 60% of all people who have died from COVID were disabled and nearly half a million people have had long COVID for over a year. Long COVID can be a debilitating condition impacting on carrying out daily activities including duties at work. Conference notes that our members working in the community sector are potentially more at risk of contracting COVID and therefore may be at risk of Long COVID due to the nature of their work which includes face to face contact, provision of personal care, working in the community and in people’s homes.

The Equality Act 2010 defines a person as disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ impact on day to day activities. Long-term can mean the impairment or health condition has lasted or is expected to last 12 months or more.

When the Government ended restrictions, the requirement for employers to make workplaces COVID secure and the work at home rules were withdrawn. However, this does not mean that employers can shy away from their health and safety duties or their obligations in respect of disability under the Equality Act 2010.

COVID has not disappeared. It is not something Disabled Members can simply learn to live with if there are no protections in place and it has highlighted the importance for branches to negotiate and bargain with employers on COVID, sickness absence, health and safety, mental health and disability inclusive policies. It is vital that employers understand the importance of flexible and timely implementation of reasonable adjustments and the benefits to both employer and worker.

UNISON has produced guidance on reasonable adjustments, access to work, mental health, disability leave and COVID including Post Covid syndrome, which includes guidance on whether the member may be a disabled person and entitled to protections and adjustments under the Equality Act 2010. However more needs to be done to raise awareness with employers in the community sector of their duties and responsibilities when it comes to supporting disabled staff.

Conference notes that at least 1 in 5 people are disabled which means that there could be at least 20,000 members working in community who are disabled. Community comprises of a broad church of employers and many of our members work face to face with people in offices, in the community and in people’s homes. More and more employers within community are introducing hybrid working, returning to hot desking, and requiring our members to spend more time working from home. Such arrangements can have both positive and negative impacts for our disabled members. This will be influenced by whether such arrangements take into account disabled workers, including travel arrangements, reasonable adjustments at home and in office spaces, the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), guidance issued to try and ensure home environments minimises risk to our members, and much more.

When looking at the impact on disabled members this should include the financial impact, noting that the TUC have carried out a pay gap analysis which concludes that generally disabled members will be working from 9 November to the end of year for nothing. Some disabled members may be in low paid jobs or working part time as a reasonable adjustment. Consideration needs to be given by employers of the financial impact of different types of working which could include increased travel costs and utility bills as well as the additional costs that our disabled members incur in respect of disability. Disability related costs include the need to spend more on essential goods and services such as heating, medication, insurance, equipment and therapies. These extra costs mean disabled people have less money in their pocket compared to non-disabled people, or simply go without. The costs have been estimated on average at about £600 per month, which in some cases is equivalent to more than half of a disabled member’s income.

Conference notes the guidance produced by UNISON on hybrid and home working and calls on the Community Service Group Executive to:

1. Encourage branches to negotiate around hybrid and home working, including with small employers in the community sector.

2. Raise awareness that people with Long Covid could be defined as disabled under the Equality Act.

3. Circulate guidance for branches with members working in community to use when negotiating COVID secure workplaces and COVID policies including specific reference to issues faced by Disabled Members and members with long COVID.

4. Promote the current range of resources available to support branches, including:

i Quick guide to Reasonable Adjustment,

ii Reasonable Adjustments Passport and policy guide

iii Disability Leave bargaining guide and model Policy

iv Bargaining to support those with Long Covid guide

v Hybrid and home working

vi Mental health guidance

5. Publicise the TUC disability pay gap analysis and encourage branches to negotiate with employers in the community sector to carry out their own disability pay gap analysis and should a pay gap be identified, produce an action plan on how this gap can be closed.