Some tips for people with long-term health conditions/disabilities looking for work.

What do you think?

Over a third of SMEs will discriminate against disabled people in recruitment?

SMEs think they know about equality employment law – but don’t?

Don’t fill in monitoring forms unless employers prove how they use them?

 About 60%of employment is with Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs- employing up to 249 people) and making up 99% of UK enterprises; other employment is mainly with bigger organisations and the public sector.  So, if you are looking for a job, the chances are high that some of your applications will be going to SMEs.

The recent report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission suggests that those 435,000 private sector SMEs in the UK with between 5 and 249 workers employ over 8 million people but aren’t great on equality in the workplace.

What does this do for your chances of success if you have a health condition/disability?

  • Most of these SMEs (88%) feel that they are well informed about equality issues  but, when put to the test, most (66%) hadn’t even heard of the key legislation (the Equality Act 2010) .   So the law and its enforcement don’t seem to be working.
  • Of course, just not being able to name the Act wouldn’t matter much if the SMEs know what they should and shouldn’t do. – but most don’t.  IN terms of discrimination: “55% of SMEs said that they would take protected characteristics into account when recruiting new staff (typically meaning they would consider not employing someone for the job on the basis of them having a protected characteristic). Disability was the characteristic most likely to be taken into account; with 37% reporting they would do this.”  So this suggests that over a third of these SMEs are no-go areas for disabled people:  a lot of lost job opportunities.
  • Few SMEs identify equality concerns in the workplace but, where they did, disability was the most common cause of the concerns. (This reflects data from the Equality Advice and Support Service showing that disability employment issues are the most common cause of contacts).  So no surprises but no wonder it is difficult for disabled people to work.
  • Most SMEs (69%) don’t see any business benefit in doing more about equality and many (42%) see it costing time and resources (business negative). So not much chance of change.

What might improve your success?

  • Check out the SME.  Size does count so the larger SMEs with, say, over 100 workers are more likely to have a better understanding of their legal responsibilities and have some HR specialists –and will often have been in business for over 10 years.  SMEs with over 50 employees are more likely to provide reasonable adjustments for disabled workers.
  • Check out attitude to equality. 
    • Even if the SME employs over 100 people, the approach to equal opportunities can be more about “box-ticking” than real inclusivity.    SMEs that are “Two Tick” employers, report on the diversity of their workforce and promote their equality activities may be the best bet.
    • Smaller and newer SMEs can have positive attitudes towards equality when they are recruiting particularly if the owner/managing director is younger, is well-educated and has ambitions for growth.
  • Be prepared to overcome SMEs ignorance and prejudices.  It’s not an ideal world with everyone doing what they should so you might need to do more than other job applicants:
    • Where possible, it may be worth emphasising how you have the strength and fitness to work.  You shouldn’t be asked about health/disability on application forms or at interviews (except for guaranteed interviews and other special circumstances).  But it might be worth countering this worry of many SMEs:  “The job requiring physical strength, fitness or mobility was by far the most common reason given for taking disability into account when recruiting.”
    • Check out if there is any law concerning the specific job: “The only other reason commonly given for taking disability into account was that the business could not have disabled workers due to legal restrictions. “
    • Where possible, check out access to where you might be working: “respondents mentioned that they would take disability into account due to nature of the job and accessibility of their workplaces.”
    • Check out Access To Work support.  Government provides funding insert link that can help with special equipment, support workers and travel that can remove or reduce issues about fitness, access and more – and so counter recruiters’ worries.
  • Decide whether to complete monitoring forms.  Employers often have separate monitoring” forms on which they ask about gender, race, disability etc on the basis that the information is kept separate from job applications and is used to check if they are getting recruits from across society.  It should be your decision whether to complete all or part of these forms and you will want to decide if the employer is using it only for monitoring – look for the employer publishing information about how many disabled people are recruited and promoted each year and the make-up of their workforce.  The research wasn’t clear whether SMEs used these forms but did conclude that few (21%) were using them to monitor recruitment.

If you don’t succeed with the job application, consider complaining if you feel that you have been treated worse than other applicants because of your disability. 

Most SMEs (94%) aren’t motivated by the risk of being sued or taken to an employment tribunal for discrimination but many will take action if an issue is raised.  Even if you didn’t succeed, a complaint might help someone in similar circumstances in the future.


Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

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