SMEs remain in dark about rights of disabled employees

Firms unaware of rights of disabled employeesDespite ambitious government policies to get a million disabled people into work over the next ten years, the latest ONS data shows a minuscule 5 percent increase since the 2017 goal, which would only see a total of merely 5,800 disabled people in work by 2027 if the pattern continues. In light of the disability employment issue, a new survey of UK SME owners conducted by Bolt Burdon Kemp claims that 95 percent of respondents don’t know the full legal rights of disabled employees.

The Equality Act 2010 was created to guarantee fair and just treatment for employees. Its aim was also to reduce socio-economic inequalities, reduce discrimination and harassment based on personal characteristics (like race, gender, sexuality or disability), and improve protections for workers.

In a multiple-choice, ‘tick any that apply’ question, the new survey asked SMEs to identify the protections that the Act gives to disabled workers. The possible answers included three of the key protections granted to disabled workers as well as two incorrect options. Only 5 percent of SMEs were able to correctly identify all three of the protections granted to disabled without picking any of the incorrect answers provided. The rest of respondents demonstrated a lack of knowledge of the regulations in various degrees:

· 22 percent partially identified the Equality Act protections

· 41 percent misidentified the Equality Act protections

· 9 percent couldn’t identify ant Equality Act protections

· 23 percent answered ‘don’t know’


HR surprisingly unknowledgeable

In terms of industry split, sales, the legal sector and HR are the least knowledgeable sectors when it comes to disabled employees’ rights, while finance, retail and IT are best at correctly identifying disability employment protections. Nevertheless, the percentage of respondents fully aware of the legislation remains low across all small business sectors:

· Finance – 8.3 percent identified all three correct answers

· Retail – 7.8 percent

· IT – 7.5 percent

· Arts – 2.9 percent

· HR – 0 percent

· Sales – 0 percent

· Legal – 0 percent


Given their poor performance in identifying disability employment rights, it’s unsurprising that 93 percent of SMEs respondents stated they want more training and education about disability employment law. Out of these respondents, over half (55.5 percent) state that the government needs to do more with regards to education and training.

The study revealed lack of knowledge and training as a common theme across SMEs:

-A shocking 42 percent say they have no training in disability employment law.
-2 in 5 SMEs (40 percent) state that they don’t have enough knowledge of disability employment law, with 1 in 5 (20 percent) SMEs with less than 10 employees saying so.
-Encouragingly, only one in ten SMEs believe their HR department isn’t conversant enough in disability employment law, although this figure rises to two in ten (20 percent) when narrowed down to SMEs with 10-49 employees.

With the government’s Access to Work scheme thus far not specifying brain injuries as an individual disability (although brain injuries like cerebral palsy and epilepsy are specified in the latest report from the Department for Work & Pensions), it’s difficult to assess how many people with brain injuries currently make up the disability workforce.

According to the new survey findings, only 4 percent of SMEs employ someone with a brain injury. In comparison, the numbers are much more encouraging for disabilities such as depression or anxiety (55.5 percent), chronic pain or fatigue (37.0 percent) and learning disabilities (24.7 percent).