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Disability Leave UK: Laws and How to Ensure Inclusive Policies

5 min read
disability leave uk

Going to work is a normal thing for most people. Doing their usual day-to-day activities comes second nature and, aside from the typical workplace frustrations, holding a job can be as easy as a walk in the park.

However, this isn’t always the case if you have a disability. There are approximately 4.8 million workers in the UK with a disability. This is a considerable proportion of the workforce who face challenges doing things many do without a second thought.

Workers with disabilities might need more support from their employers than those who don’t experience the same challenges, such as moving around in their work environment or accessing resources or benefits. However, regardless of whether the disability is a physical or mental impairment, one common area where disabled employees can meet resistance is needing to take more time off than others.

In this article, we explore how employers can help their disabled employees at work through disability leave.

A man sat at a table in an open plan office. The space around him is clear as a reasonable adjustment to ensure his wheelchair can get around easily.

What is Disability Leave?

Disability leave is a specific type of leave granted to employees with disabilities or long-term health conditions to provide them with necessary time off. This type of leave is designed to ensure that disabled employees can manage their health effectively. Disability leave is crucial in upholding the principles of inclusivity and equal opportunities within the workplace.

Legally, disability leave falls under the remit of the Equality Act 2010, a comprehensive piece of legislation that protects individuals from discrimination on the grounds of disability. According to this act, a person is considered disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment that substantially affects their ability to carry out day-to-day activities. These individuals are entitled to reasonable adjustments in the workplace, which includes providing disability leave when necessary.

The duration and nature of disability leave can vary depending on the individual’s specific needs and the severity of their disability. It is not limited to a fixed number of days or weeks and may be provided as continuous leave or on an intermittent basis, depending on the circumstances. Disability leave may be used for disability related sickness absence, medical and hospital appointments, managing treatment, recovery periods, or any other disability-related requirements.

Should Disability Leave Be Paid?

Employees who take disability related sickness absence are entitled to statutory sick pay (as long as they meet the other qualifying criteria). However, whilst there is no specific legal requirement for employers to provide paid disability leave in the UK, it is essential to recognise the impact it can have on employees’ financial stability and overall wellbeing.

In the absence of paid disability leave, employees may have to rely on a combination of different leave entitlements, such as sick leave, annual leave, or unpaid leave, to manage their disability-related absences. This may be enough for some employees, but for others facing more prolonged or frequent periods of disability-related leave, the absence of paid leave can create financial stress.

Employers are increasingly recognising the importance of accommodating employees with disabilities. Some employers in the UK opt to offer paid disability leave as part of their policies. A huge 21% of working age adults have a disability and, by providing paid disability leave, employers demonstrate their commitment to supporting the wellbeing and dignity of their disabled workforce through ensuring they are not disproportionately burdened due to their health conditions.

An employee sits down with her line manager to discuss her disability related sick leave.


Risks of Not Offering Disability Leave

The decision not to offer disability leave can have significant consequences for both employees and employers. Here are some of the key risks associated with not providing disability leave:

Employment Tribunals: If an employee feels that their disability absence needs are not being met, they may take their case to an employment tribunal. Employment tribunals have the authority to review cases of alleged discrimination for a disability related reason and can order employers to pay compensation if they have acted unfairly or inappropriately.

Company Reputation: A company’s reputation is closely linked to how it treats its employees, especially those with disabilities. If an organisation is perceived as neglecting the wellbeing of disabled workers, it can have a direct impact on external perception. A negative reputation will also affect employer branding, which will lead to difficulties in attracting and retaining talented employees.

Loss of Productivity and Engagement: Without adequate support and flexibility, disabled employees may struggle to manage their health conditions effectively while working. This can result in reduced productivity, increased absenteeism, and disengagement, all of which can impact the overall performance of the organisation.

How to Implement Inclusive Disability Leave Policies

Organisations should take their existing policies and ask themselves the question – do our company policies support all of our employees in the best way possible? Employers must consider ways to promote inclusivity in their processes and procedures to mitigate risks of discrimination and also ensure those who are disabled feel supported and that they belong.

Here are some steps to follow to create an inclusive set of policies:

  • Form Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)

    Establishing ERGs focused on disability inclusion can provide valuable insights and feedback from disabled employees. These groups can help shape disability leave policies that cater to diverse needs.

  • Consult with Disabled Employees

    Involve disabled employees in the decision-making process when drafting disability leave policies. Consulting with employees ensures that policies are designed to meet their specific requirements in areas such as reasonable adjustments before rolling out the policy.

  • Promote Flexible Working

    Offer flexible working arrangements, such as remote work or adjusted hours, to accommodate disabled employees’ needs and support their work-life balance.

  • Champion Equity, Not Equality

    Recognise that different disabilities may require varying levels of support. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, tailor disability leave based on individual needs. Review each request on a case by case basis and take into account recommendations from healthcare professionals.

  • Train Employees and Managers

    Conduct training sessions to raise awareness and educate both employees and managers about disability rights, reasonable adjustments, and the importance of disability-inclusive practices.

  • Review Policies Regularly

    Regularly review and update disability leave policies to align with changes in legislation and best practices, ensuring they remain effective and compliant.

    An employee meets with his colleagues to outline why the standard sickness absence policy isn't inclusive.

Can Organisations Dismiss Employees On Disability Leave?

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees based on their disabilities. Dismissing an employee solely because they are on disability leave would be considered disability discrimination.

However, that does not mean that disabled employees are exempt from dismissal. Organisations have the right to dismiss employees on disability leave under certain circumstances, provided the decision is not directly related to their disability. Legitimate reasons for dismissal may include redundancy, poor performance unrelated to the disability, or misconduct that is not a result of the disability itself. Organisations (size dependent) may also be able to argue that the level of absences is unsustainable. However, this approach needs to be approached carefully.

Employers must be cautious and ensure that any decision to dismiss an employee on disability leave is fair, justifiable, and not discriminatory. This involves thoroughly assessing the individual’s capabilities and considering any reasonable adjustments that could enable them to continue their employment successfully.

Managing Leave with Factorial

By leveraging Factorial’s time-off management software, you can streamline the entire leave management process, enabling seamless submission and approval of time-off requests in alignment with employee schedules and your workload projections.

With Factorial’s user-friendly platform, you can establish a clear and accessible time-off policy for your staff, providing them with easy access to guidelines when requesting days off.

Plus, teams have access to an intuitive, shared calendar to view upcoming employee absences split by sick leave, holidays, and more.

Amy is a knowledgeable People professional with over a decade of experience across a variety of private and public sector organisations. With a particular interest in employee engagement, Amy is an advocate for employee-centric approaches in all areas of HR which is reflected in her writing. Before a career in HR, Amy read English and Creative Writing at university and later studied for her CIPD, HR Management.

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