Blog: Let’s have an informed discussion about working from home

Graeme Ellis and Tansaim Hussain-Gul are co-chairs of UNISON’s national disabled members’ committee. Here, they look at how COVID-19 has disproved myths about home working being unproductive

Head and shoulders shots of Tansaim Hussain-Gul and Graeme Ellis

We’re both disabled workers and UNISON activists. Tansaim works for a big energy company and Graeme works for a small charity. But like so many others, we’ve both worked from home during the pandemic.

Graeme has found working from home quite lonely and isolating. Tansaim has juggled homeworking with looking after her children and sharing workspace with her partner.

But we’ve both managed to do our jobs.

Why is this important?

Because for years, disabled workers have been told by managers that home working is “not our policy” or just wouldn’t be possible.

Many disabled workers knew that they could do their job better – and with less pain – from home. In fact, disabled workers should have the right to work from home as a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act 2010.

However, the reality has been very different, with countless UNISON disabled members told that home working just wasn’t allowed.

But then COVID-19 came along. All of a sudden, millions of people were told to work from home.

Tansaim welcomed the first month or two working from home as it meant a break from her exhausting daily commute. She could also stay home in her safe place where she can best manage her health.

Survey reveals productivity boost

We recently surveyed almost 5,000 disabled UNISON members and many felt the same as Tansaim.

About half of them said they worked from home every day during the pandemic – proving employers wrong when they claimed it just wasn’t possible.

And almost three quarters said they were more productive or just as productive at home. They can manage their pain and fatigue by taking short breaks or working more flexible hours. Being close to a toilet has meant much less stress and worry. And many reported less need to take time off sick.

COVID-19 has proved that working from home is possible and can be a positive thing for both workers and for business.

That’s why UNISON is calling for a new right to home working for disabled workers who want it.

Tansaim was lucky as she has all her equipment at home. And Access to Work, the government agency that pays for the cost of adjustments for disabled workers, supplied new equipment for Graeme, helping him to represent his clients at telephone and online benefit appeal hearings.

But we know not all disabled workers are getting the help they need to work from home. That’s why UNISON wrote to the Chancellor two weeks ago to demand a big investment in Access to Work so more disabled workers can benefit from working from home.

Of course, not everyone wants to work from home. And we don’t want to let employers off the hook – they need to provide adjustments in the workplace as the law requires.

We’re both managing to do our jobs from home, but we miss that physical connection with colleagues. So we are both looking forward to getting back to work when it’s safe.

But the government must act now. It would be a tragedy if disabled workers were forced back to workplaces that can cause them pain, fatigue and constant worry about getting to the loo on time. If they want to continue to work from home, they should be allowed to.

This virus has had a devastating effect on disabled people. Simply put, we’re twice as likely to die compared to non-disabled people.

But let’s try and take something positive out of this horrific experience. Let’s have a revolution in homeworking for those who need it.

Let’s give disabled people the right to work from home if they want.

Download the full survey report as a Word document here: COVID-19 and Disabled workers: Time for a homeworking revolution?