A woman on a conference call with her team

Disabled workers fear remote working may affect career progression

New research undertaken by the Work Foundation has revealed that 85% of disabled workers in the UK feel more productive when they work from home.

80% of those surveyed agreed remote working is essential or very important when searching for a new job role, whilst 66% of disabled workers surveyed felt they would ideally want to work remotely for 80% of the time. 

Although 70% of the hundreds of disabled workers surveyed believed being enforced by the employer to work in the workplace office/site would negatively impact their health, the majority fear remote working would halt their career progression.

Due to the massive shift in employers' attitudes to home-working after the COVID-19 pandemic forced many to work from home, many employees have found they have been able to continue working from home. Others have felt that home working arrangements have been agreed with reluctancy and hesitance. 

In addition, 70% of disabled workers feel they will be overlooked for training and development opportunities if they continue to work from home. 

The Work Foundation research explored disabled people’s experiences of remote and hybrid working both before and after COVID-19. A total of  460 disabled workers were included in the study from across the UK and the percentages showed an almost uniform attitude of home working from the employer’s perspective, with many workers sharing concerns regarding their career. 

In the UK, only 52.7% of disabled individuals are employed, compared to 81% of non-disabled workers. The disability pay gap increased from 11.7% to 13.8% between 2014 and 2021. 

The employment market continues to cause disabled workers to face many difficulties and place them at a disadvantage in comparison to non-disabled people.

Ben Harrison, the Director of the Work Foundation, has stressed how the government and employers must do more to support the disabled workforce.  He said:

“Disabled people have been worst affected by the economic fallout of the pandemic, experiencing higher rates of unemployment and redundancies than non-disabled people. Many employers refused to offer remote or hybrid working options before COVID-19 hit – even as reasonable adjustments – which probably goes some way to explain the shocking disability employment gap we face in the UK.

"Despite seeing an overall rise in remote and flexible working since, it’s particularly concerning to see that ‘pre-pandemic’ perceptions are still affecting the experience of work for disabled people, with many fearing their career progression and access to training and development will be limited if they continue working from home. “

The surveyed workers noted the support they received from their employer during COVID-19 was worse than before the pandemic. Conversely, others felt they noticed an improvement in employer support once the pandemic began and working from home was necessary. 19% said that any requests they made to their employer to help with adjustments in working from home were rejected.  

The purpose of the study was to highlight the issues disabled workers currently face and to communicate this to employers and the government in order to implement policies and initiatives that provide greater support.

Overall, gains in autonomy and control of working environments was the biggest support to disabled workers in terms of being able to work remotely. A number of workers also highlighted improvements in health outcomes and quality of life and work. These also led to an increase in job satisfaction, impacting their business positively as well as themselves. 

In an example given by the University of Lancaster, autistic workers were able to control lighting and noise levels whilst working at home. 

Paul Martinelli, the chairman of the City Bridge Trust Grants Committee, said:

“The pandemic transformed our lives in many ways, not least in how and where we work. This research demonstrates that flexible working, which many companies and organisations have now adopted, has particularly far-reaching benefits for disabled employees. Not only does it empower disabled people to better manage their health and wellbeing, it increases the likelihood of their securing work, staying long-term and progressing in their career, to the benefit of employee and employer alike.

“This report contains some clear recommendations as to how policymakers, employers and colleagues can work to provide the flexibility and support disabled people need, and in the process address the shocking pay and employment gaps which still exist. It’s vital that the voice of disabled people is heard when decisions which affect their working arrangements are made, and that experience gained during the pandemic is put to use to ensure that, even if working remotely, disabled people are treated inclusively, as valued members of the team.”

It has been recommended that there is an increase in resourcing for the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, and that the body widens its remit to allow employees to constructively challenge employers who do not accept adjustment requests for disabled people. The Commissioning body has been advised to open an enquiry into adjustments that are deemed reasonable.