Supporting staff with disabilities

The University's Equality and Diversity Team website has detailed guidance on support for disabled staff including how to make and record reasonable adjustments. The information below is intended to supplement this and cover particular HR issues 

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The Equality Act 2010 defines disability as follows: “A person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment, which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”.

Long-term means that the impairment has lasted or is likely to last for at least 12 months or for the rest of the affected person’s life. Substantial means more than minor or trivial.

Cancer, HIV infection, multiple sclerosis, and some sight conditions are deemed disabilities under the Act from the point of diagnosis. Other progressive conditions are covered by the Act from the moment the condition results in an impairment which has some effect on ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, even though not a substantial effect, if that impairment might well have a substantial adverse effect on such ability in the future.

Physical impairments include sensory impairments, such as those affecting sight or hearing, and the term ‘mental impairment’ is intended to cover a wide range of impairments relating to mental functioning, including what are often known as learning disabilities.

There is no need for a person to establish a medically diagnosed cause for their impairment. More importantly, consideration should be given to the effect of the impairment, not the cause. Furthermore, those who have recovered from a disability may continue to be protected by the provisions of the Equality Act.


Full definitions are set out in Appendix 1 of the Equality and Human Rights commission statutory code of practice.

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The Equality Act requires employers to: eliminate discrimination, victimisation and harassment; to promote equality of opportunity for disabled employees; and foster good relations between people with a disability and others who do not. Employers should take positive steps to ensure that disabled people can access and progress in employment. This goes beyond simply avoiding treating disabled workers, job applicants and potential job applicants less favourably; and means taking additional steps to which non-disabled workers and applicants are not entitled.

The primary duty is to “make reasonable adjustments” which may mean any or all of the following:

  • Addressing situations where a provision, criterion or practice applied by or on behalf of the employer puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage compared to those who are not disabled.
  • Removing or altering a physical feature or providing a reasonable means of avoiding such a feature where it puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage compared to those who are not disabled.
  • Providing an auxiliary aid (for example, something which provides support or assistance to a disabled person. This might include an adapted keyboard, text-to-speech software, or an auxiliary service,for example, provision of a sign language interpreter or a support worker) where a disabled person would, without the provision of that auxiliary aid, be put at a substantial disadvantage compared to those who are not disabled.

There is also a duty on employers not to treat disabled people less favourably because of something arising from their disability.

For further information, including detailed guidance on how to record reasonable adjustments see the EDU guidance on reasonable adjustments 

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Care should be taken with the arrangements for recruitment and selection so that the University does not miss the potential offered by people with disabilities and that discrimination does not inadvertently occur.

Designing the job

  • Ensure that job descriptions are not discriminatory by ensuring that adverts and further particular focus on objective job requirements, such as ‘patrolling a building on three floors’ rather than subjective descriptions such as ‘must be physically fit’.
  • Consider whether posts might be offered on a part-time basis.

Shortlisting and interview arrangements

  • Remember to ask candidates to indicate whether any reasonable adjustments are required for the interview process, using the standard letter. Reasonable adjustments may mean ensuring that the interview room is accessible, or appropriately equipped, or adapting selection exercises for example to grant extra time.
  • It is important not to make assumptions about the feasibility of making adjustments that may be required to accommodate any disability that has been declared: wherever the candidate is suitably qualified for the post, they should be short listed for interview regardless of the disability. If you are concerned that it may not be possible to make the job accessible to an applicant take advice from University HR in the first instance before the interview.

Starting work

  • If physical adjustments are required consider the Access to Work Scheme, which is a government scheme to provide support for disabled people in the workplace. It provides support including grants to help cover the costs of practical support (such as specialist equipment or adaptations) or travel to and form work and some personal support (although specialist tuition and medical supervision are not included). Applications must be made by the employee (although managers should ensure that an application has been made if funding is needed).

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Issues about the retention of a disabled employee may arise when an employee becomes disabled or if a disability worsens during the course of employment. It might also arise when an employee has a stable impairment but the nature of their employment changes (for example, if the employee is relocated or if duties change). 

In such circumstance, the employing department must:

  • consider any reasonable adjustments that would resolve the difficulty, and implement any adjustments identified, within a reasonable timescale.

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Examples of adjustments might include:

  • adjustments to the employee’s working hours
  • adjusting the employee’s work location
  • permitting absence in working hours for rehabilitation, assessment or treatment
  • giving additional training
  • acquiring or modifying equipment
  • providing personal support (for example, a note taker for meetings, interpreter, etc)
  • adjustments to premises
  • allocating some of the employee’s duties to another person
  • transferring the employee to fill an existing vacancy
  • modifying instructions or reference manuals

In deciding what is reasonable, the resources available to the employer as a whole should be taken into account. This would include funding from the Access to Work scheme.

The disabled employee should normally be involved in discussions about the effects of the disability and in considering any reasonable adjustments that might help. Experience suggests that situations are most fruitfully addressed when the person concerned is involved from the start. It is important to keep accurate written records at every stage of the assessment process, and to give reasons for decisions.

The EDU website offers detailed advice on making and recording reasonable adjustments

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If such adjustments are not practicable within the employing department, the University would be expected to consider redeploying a disabled employee to an alternative post within the wider University, providing that a suitable vacancy exists.

However, redeployment within an individual’s own department should be the first consideration. If no suitable post exists within the original department, the HR Business Partner should try to arrange for the individual’s details to be made available to other departments, so that they are able to consider the individual’s suitability for any vacancies prior to advertising a post. Where a suitable vacancy is found it is appropriate for such a vacancy to be offered to the disabled employee without the need for a competitive interview. If such a post is available, a trial period of up to three months in the new post is recommended during which time the individual’s salary costs will be borne by the original department. 

The individual and their department are also advised to consult the University's website for jobs and vacancies within the University. The individual may apply for advertised posts in open competition with other applicants. They should, however, receive preferential consideration. This means that provided that the priority application arrives by the normal closing date, and the applicant meets the selection criteria they should be interviewed before any other candidates (and, if practicable, before any other candidates are called for interview). If suitable they should be offered the job (with the salary costs being borne by the recruiting department from the outset) and Occupational Health advice should be sought to identify any reasonable adjustments or additional training that may be required.

If no redeployment opportunities are available within the University, the individual can be referred to the local JobcentrePlus in order to investigate alternative employment options external to the University.

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Where it is reasonably considered that the employment cannot continue (including consideration of any reasonable adjustments) then ill-health early retirement may be appropriate. Advice must be sought from University HR before any further action is taken.

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University Occupational Health Service (UOHS)

Referrals to the Occupational Health Service can be made by line manager using the UOHS management referral form. In order that appropriate support can be provided it is preferable that the referral is made by the department with the full involvement of the staff member, and preferably after seeking advice from your HR Business Partner. Individuals may also self-refer to UOHS.

The Occupational Health Service can provide:

  • opinion regarding disability, its impact on the employee’s functional capacity at work, and its likely prognosis
  • advice to departments on possible reasonable adjustments that might assist the individual in work
  • information regarding the provision and purchase of commonly-used adaptive ergonomic equipment.

Disabled staff are entitled to absolute medical confidentiality, and an occupational health report will often not contain medical details.  However, in order that departments can give proper consideration to making adjustments, staff who self-refer to UOHS will be encouraged to give consent for relevant information to be shared with their department.

In some cases an Occupational Nurse Advisor will see the employee, undertake a workplace assessment, and advise the employee’s manager about any recommended workplace adaptations.

In more complex cases employees will see the Occupational Physician (OP) for a detailed medical functional assessment. With the employee’s consent, the OP may request a report from a specialist or from the employee’s GP. Medical reports from external sources may take some time to obtain. In case of delay the employee should contact their treating physician. UOHS may work with the Staff Disability Advisor to suggest interim adjustments where appropriate.

The Staff Disability Advisor

The  Staff Disability Advisor offers advice on disability matters, including adjustments to the work place (including assistive technology and other equipment).

The Support for disabled staff web pages provide guidance on reasonable adjustments as well as a range of resources and information.

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People and Organisational Development (POD):

  • courses for managers on recruitment, equal opportunities, employee capability, conduct and absence management

Occupational Health Service publications:

  • Occupational Health Service publications (such as “Psychiatric Illness in the Workplace” (OHS M1/03))

University Safety Officers: 

  • advice on fire safety and risk assessment

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