On this page we explain what the law says about disability and work and what you should expect from your employer.
You're on page four of the guide 'Getting back to work after a stroke'.
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Disability discrimination is against the law. It happens when an employee is treated less favourably due to their disability.
This treatment might be direct and obvious, or it may be the result of a policy that appears equal but actually disadvantages some groups. For example, requiring everyone to enter a building via stairs may be indirect discrimination.
Am I disabled?
The legal definition of a disability in the UK is a physical and or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term effect on your ability to carry out daily activities. This includes the emotional and cognitive problems you might have after a stroke.
You might not think of yourself as ‘disabled’ but the law is there to help everyone, including people with hidden disabilities like cognitive and emotional problems.
Some employers have a disability leave policy which allows employees to take paid leave related to their disability, such as for treatment or rehabilitation. This is separate from sickness absence.
Disability leave is treated as a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act 2010, and employers are not obliged to offer it.
Find out how your employer treats absence due to disability. This should be in the staff handbook, or you can ask your line manager or a trade union representative, if you have one.
The Equality Act 2010 states that a disability should not stop someone from working or having the same rights and access to opportunities as other people.
Employers have a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for employees who are disabled.
What is a reasonable adjustment?
A reasonable adjustment is a change to the workplace or the way a disabled person does their job in order to allow them to work. This may mean changing work times, transferring to another post or providing specialist equipment to help with certain tasks.
Reasonable adjustments do not have to be expensive or complicated. It’s about looking at the barriers a person is experiencing and thinking creatively about removing them.
Employers cannot ask the disabled person to meet the cost of any reasonable adjustments. Employers should allow time to make sure reasonable adjustments can be made before an employee returns to work.
Tip: even if your difficulties do not meet the legal definition of a disability, your employer can still make adjustments to help you.
Examples of reasonable adjustments:
- Getting more time to complete tasks.
- Getting help from a support worker.
- Changing the time you start and finish work to avoid rush hour travel.
- Changing tasks to suit what a person can do.
- Changing targets or getting support from other colleagues to meet targets.
- Reducing working hours. You are only legally entitled to be paid for the hours you actually work, but your employer should discuss any changes in pay with you. If your terms of employment and pay have been changed you can seek individual advice from Acas.
- Being allowed to take time off to attend hospital appointments.
- Regular meetings with your manager to see how the tasks set are going.
- Working in a quieter office.
- Having help from an occupational health team.
Be clear about your support needs
The duty to make reasonable adjustments only applies when someone has a disability as defined in the Equality Act. It does not apply if the employer could not reasonably be expected to know that a person is disabled.
It is therefore very important to be honest about the effects of your stroke and keep in contact with your employer. The way your stroke affects your work should be documented in your return-to-work plan and reviewed regularly.
“I was worried my boss wouldn’t understand. I didn’t want help from anyone. Luckily my workplace was amazing. They were really keen to make sure I had all the support I needed. Once my GP gave me the go-ahead, we came up with a return-to-work plan. I had a phased return, and my line manager and I concentrated on the less complicated tasks first. I’ve now increased my hours and feel more confident.” Robert, stroke survivor.
Organisations that can help
Access to Work
Access to Work can help you if your health or disability affects the way you do your job, and your condition is likely to last 12 months or more. It gives you and your employer advice and support with extra costs which may arise because of your needs at work. Visit the GOV.UK website for more information.
Fit for Work
This scheme can help you plan for your return to work. It offers information and resources from occupational health specialists. Visit the Fit for Work website for more information.
If things are not going well
For many stroke survivors, being back in work after a long time off sick can be difficult, no matter how well-prepared they feel before they go back. They report that tasks that were easy before the stroke become more difficult afterwards, and that regaining skills, confidence and stamina can take a long time.
Action you can take
Here are some tips if you feel you’re not doing well at work or getting the support you need.
- Speak to your line manager or occupational health advisor.
- See if they can suggest any further reasonable adjustments.
- Ask for a re-assessment from your NHS occupational therapist or from Access to Work.
Stroke is complex. Over time effects may change and some can improve. Sometimes new effects appear. Speak to your occupational therapist or vocational rehabilitation advisor in your local area and explain you need more support at work.
“I needed two occupational therapy assessments. One straight after my stroke and one seven months later when I returned to work and found my problems had changed.” Catherine, stroke survivor.
If you feel that you’re not getting the reasonable adjustments or other support you need at work, try to get some individual advice. Speak to a trade union representative if you have one. If not, Acas can help with work-related disputes.
Visit the Acas website for further information.
Can I be dismissed for taking long-term sick leave?
In some cases it will be considered legally ‘fair’ for an employer to dismiss an employee due to long-term illness. In these situations, the employer is first required to consider as many ways as possible to help their employee back to work. If the employer decides to pursue an ill-health dismissal, they should:
- Obtain medical evidence (with the employee’s permission).
- Arrange an occupational health assessment.
- Prove that no reasonable adjustments can be made to enable the employee to do their job.
If your employer fails to take the above steps, or if you disagree with your employer’s interpretation of the medical recommendations, you may be able to bring a claim for unfair dismissal. If you think your employer is behaving unlawfully you should seek professional advice.
You can get advice from a solicitor, a trade union or an organisation like Acas or Citizens Advice. If you need to make a claim to an employment tribunal, the time limit for making a claim is three months minus one day from the unlawful act. It’s important not to delay in getting advice.
Income protection for self-employed people
If you are self-employed, you might have an insurance policy which offers to provide some kind of payment or income if you are seriously ill. Most policies cover some types of ill health but not others. For example, most cover stroke but many do not cover stress. Many illness insurance policies have a waiting period before you can make a claim. Contact your policy provider to find out what you are entitled to.
Ending your employment
Employers have to consult with you before making your role redundant. The same arrangements and requirements for redundancy will apply for disabled people as for non-disabled employees.
Employers need to ensure that disabled employees can fully join in the consultation. They must ensure that the person gets the information, fully understands the proposals, and has had the same chance as any other employee to contribute to the consultation process. This may mean asking for extra time to read and make sense of documents.
You could contact your trade union if you are a member. You cannot be selected for redundancy based on your disability. This could be grounds for unfair dismissal.
If retirement is an option, you will need to think about it very carefully. Many people seek independent financial advice before deciding to retire. The UK government offers a free pensions advice service to people aged 50. Visit the Pension Wise website for further information.
There are different types of retirement, with different benefits. Early retirement may mean you get a smaller pension while medical retirement may not. Your employer and pension scheme officers will be able to help you find out if you are eligible for medical retirement.
Many people enjoy the freedom and relaxation of retirement. But others find they miss the companionship, structure, and routine of working, as well as the income and status.
Your decision to retire will be personal to you and your circumstances. If you choose retirement, think about some activities and things you’d like to achieve, so that your time is enjoyable.
Find out more information about getting back to work after stroke.