Disability leave from work

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Health Assured team

26 May 2021

One of the challenges disabled employees face at work is absences and how they are viewed by HR. Sometimes, a disability will require you to take time off work and this is out of your control.

HR assigns this as sickness or unplanned absences in many companies, and affects how they will view the individual’s productivity. This puts disabled employees at a disadvantage to those who don’t face these challenges.

This shows, as disabled employees face redundancy twice as often as their non-disabled colleagues.

This is why having disability leave is such a powerful way to support your disabled employees. It allows them to take the time off they need for their wellbeing without it counting against them.

Let’s look at what counts as disability leave and how you can implement it in your workplace today.

What is disability leave?

Disability leave is planned or unplanned time off from work for a reason related to someone’s disability.

Disability leave can cover a range of disability-related absences:

  • Attending clinic appointments
  • Coming to terms with a new diagnosis (disability adjustment leave)
  • Coping with treatment side effects

What they require will vary from person to person.

This is different to short disability leave, as that is focused around rehabilitation to an injury usually.

Do you need to offer disability leave?

Disability leave itself isn’t a legal requirement. But it’s a ‘reasonable adjustment’ disabled workers may be entitled to under the Equality Act 2010.

The act outlines protected characteristics, which disability is one of, and assigns protections and rights towards them. Any health issue that has a long-term effect on someone’s normal day-to-day activity is a disability in the eyes of the law.

  • Long-term means that it will last or likely last at least 12 months.
  • Day-to-day activity means something done every day, like using the computer or talking to colleagues.

This means mental health issues can also come under the umbrella of disability if they fit the above definition. So you need to ensure you’re making reasonable adjustments for those who suffer from these.

Is disability leave paid?

Yes, it is. As a disability is not an illness, just a differently abled person, it is not treated as sick leave or unplanned absences.

You must count this type of leave as continuous employment, else it would be discriminatory. This means they receive all the same benefits that they would normally, including leave accrual and pay.

Disability-related sick leave

It is important that regular sick leave and disability-related sick leave are kept separate.

Disability leave doesn’t apply to absence due to sickness, whether or not it’s related to a disability.

In certain cases, you may make reasonable adjustments, such as grating unplanned disability leave, in relation to the sickness absence of an employee with a disability, but they’re different forms of leave.

Also, a retrospective application should be permitted. It’s possible that an employee’s absence will have started before it becomes known that it’s disability-related, in which case it should be possible to redefine the absence as disability leave rather than sickness once this has been clarified.

Disability leave policy

As it isn’t a legal requirement, we advise you to create an internal policy if you’re planning on offering it. Offering a policy is one of the examples of a reasonable adjustment in the Equality Act 2010 Statutory Code of Practice.

The policy must explain:

  • What disability leave is.
  • When it may apply.
  • Who can request it.
  • How it can be requested.
  • How long it can be.

When constructing the policy, you should ensure that it is administered by management that understands it, and with members supported by union representatives who are trained in dealing with disability discrimination.

You can create a policy without any union representation, but it would be harder to make this as fair.

Get help from Health Assured on diversity in the workplace

Failing to support diversity at work can affect employee wellbeing.

It’s your responsibility to look after your employee’s wellbeing at work. If you don’t, you will face legal consequences, see your best employees leave, and experience decreased productivity.

Having wellbeing resources, such as an EAP or our app, you can support your employee’s wellbeing and keep productivity high.

If you want to know more about neurodiversity, or if you have any wellbeing concerns, please call our free, 24-hour helpline on 0844 891 0352

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