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Organisational awareness of disability passports low

Research has found that firms are struggling to implement these records of reasonable adjustments

Lack of awareness could be seriously limiting the effectiveness of workplace disability passports, according to research from Business Disability Forum.

Developed by the TUC and the GMB, workplace disability passports (sometimes called workplace adjustment passports) are records of reasonable adjustments that can be given to managers and colleagues to avoid inconsistent treatment, and so disabled employees don’t have to repeat discussions.

Business Disability Forum’s The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey asked 1,200 respondents for their views on these passports. Despite 48% of organisations that use the passports saying they had entirely positive experiences, many are struggling to successfully implement them, it found.

According to data seen exclusively by HR magazine, 43% of those surveyed had no knowledge of adjustment passports before the survey. Forty-nine per cent worked in an organisation that did not offer them, while 29% were unaware if their workplace offered them.

Out of the organisations surveyed who had used the passports, almost a quarter (24%) said they were still sceptical about how consistently they were used across the business.

“Although workplace adjustment passports are used slightly differently across organisations and sectors, for an employee with a disability or a long-term health condition they are a way of giving some autonomy over the process of reasonable adjustment,” said Angela Matthews, head of policy and advice at Business Disability Forum.

“Often we have disabled employees tell us that they didn’t like some of the language used around reasonable adjustments. For example, they would tell us they wouldn’t find a task or their job ‘difficult.’ They just wanted more support,” she said.

Passports can help navigate highly-sensitive situations, Matthews added: “Even HR and diversity and inclusion specialists who really know their stuff can still need support now and again. I once spoke to an HR manager who had to speak to an employee who had just been diagnosed with cancer and needed support. For her this was not just another process, it was highly emotional, and she wanted help in how to have that conversation not just as an employer but as a human being.”

Matthews warned, however, that passports should not be used as a “quick fix” for putting reasonable adjustments in place: “The most important thing is that employees feel they are involved in the process. When workplace adjustment passports have been piloted and not continued it’s often because a conversation about what individuals want still doesn’t take place.”

Janina Vallance, executive director of people and change at Scope, agreed. “When it comes to reasonable adjustments you always need employees at the heart of the process,” she said.

“From what we’ve seen these passports can be really positive. For disabled workers moving throughout the organisation it means they don’t need to keep having the same conversations over and over again about what they need.”

Reasonable adjustments are often much simpler than many employers might assume, added Vallance: “The structured conversations that employees can have when using workplace adjustment passports, particularly when it comes to mental health, show that reasonable adjustments are often made up of very small changes.”

Virgin Media has recently turned its attention to disability passports. Catherine Lynch, chief people officer, said: “We have just started looking into workplace adjustment passports, and we’ll be really interested to see the results. For us this all comes down to having the right culture and the right leadership; we’re very aware that no policy will work without it.”

She added: “We noticed that bringing in reasonable adjustments was taking far too long. It used to take 12 weeks, but once we got a CEO who really put this at the front of our agenda we managed to cut it down to one. We want to get to a place on disability beyond practices and policies, where employees can say ‘it’s just the way we do things around here’.”

This piece appeared in the July 2019 issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk