Conference hears how disabled workers face absence problems

Workers are often punished for disability-related absences, with more discretion needed from employers and managers

A busy morning of debates at UNISON’s disabled members’ conference in Brighton saw delegates tackle a wide range of issues, from the importance of “digital inclusion” – and the difficulties many disabled people face in tackling online application forms – to the need to remember that disabled members may not identify in a binary way, and need to be included by using non-binary language.

The morning’s most moving debate saw Jackie Anderson from Scotland tell the story of Anne, a 43-year-old woman working in the public sector.

She had a disability – endometriosis. It was well managed, but caused short absences from work. However, the employer was unsympathetic and she faced absence procedures.

The union suggested annualising Anne’s hours, but this was refused.

When Anne’s mother was diagnosed with dementia, Anne found herself using annual leave to care. Then her mother died and, just weeks later, her brother too, of an unexpected heart attack.

Anne was given no bereavement leave and the inevitable happened, with her ending up with a formal warning over her hours.

In support, Sharon Dixon told delegates that “how painful this disease [endometriosis] is – it can cripple you and it can spread to your bladder”.

Conference agreed that employers need to be able to apply discretion over attendance processes, and disabled workers in particular should not be pushed into disciplinary procedures so quickly.

Conference passed the motion, which called on the national committee to carry out a number of actions, including publicising UNISON’s own carer’s leave policies.