Disability workforce reporting
In December 2021, the Government published a consultation to gather views on whether employers with over 250 employees should be required to report the number of disabled employees they employ.
As this is can be an emotionally charged debate, we were keen to develop an evidenced-based approach to responding to this consultation. We therefore formed a working group of 64 employers from across our membership and we worked with 64 employees who have a disability to gain their views on the following consultation considerations:
- How far mandatory disability reporting would contribute to reducing the disability employment gap;
- How far mandatory disability reporting would increase transparency from employers; and
- Whether a mandatory reporting requirement from employers would improve inclusive experiences of work.
Our research found that a mandatory approach to reporting would not directly impact any of the above issues that the consultation sought to address. The top five reasons for this were:
- Mandatory disability workforce reporting would only apply to large employers, but most UK employers are small and medium size employers. In addition, mandatory reporting would only capture disabled people who are in work, whereas the disability employment gap must measure the number of disabled people who are looking for work and falling out of work as well. This mandatory approach would therefore only capture a comparatively small number of employees in a relatively small number of organisations.
- A common argument for introducing mandatory disability reporting is that gender pay gap reporting is mandatory. However, an increasing amount of evidence shows widening gender inequalities in the workplace. In addition, even though gender pay gap reporting is mandatory, a high number of employers still do not report. Enforcement bodies do not have the resource to take enforcement action, and BDF does not want to make recommendations about disability and disabled people’s lives where there is no evidence for it working for other equality ‘groups’. Neither do we want to recommend a mandatory approach if we already know there is no resource to ensure it happens.
- Disabled employees were actually not fond of a mandatory approach. They were generally concerned about the disability-related backdrop in which this mandatory reporting proposal is taking place – changes to benefit payments, Access to Work being decreased in some sectors, increased extra costs of being disabled, and the removal of Covid restrictions such as wearing face coverings in crowded places and removing shielding. A mandatory approach would mean the Government deciding a definition of disability and the categorisations of types of disabilities and conditions. This caused anxiety to some disabled employees, particularly those who had been involved in forming the language and narrative of disability and being disabled at work co-productively with their employer and their disability related staff networks. Others were worried about the ‘must’ and ‘mandatory’ approach for anything disability related. This is because they felt gives the impression that disability is ‘hard work’ and ‘hassle’ which then gets internalised in Government, work, and public life narratives as ‘disabled people are hard work and hassle’.
- The number of disabled people employed in an organisation does not reveal the experience disabled employees have in that organisation. Our research shows that, in inclusive workplaces where disabled employees reported a good experience and spoke highly of their employer, processes such as getting adjustments or choosing to work flexibly were not reliant on someone saying they have a disability. This meant employees working in inclusive workplaces did not have to tell their employer they have a disability before they get what they need or before they can work in the way that best suits them. The risk of a mandatory approach is that the employer reporting the highest percentage of disabled employees is perceived to be the most inclusive. Our discussions with disabled employees show this is not the case. In fact, in organisations with the higher percentages of disabled employees, some disabled employees reported waiting between nine months and two years for adjustments to be put in place. This might be a high prevalence of disabled employees, but it is not inclusion.
- Employees emphasised the difference between identifying as being ‘disabled’ and telling their employer they have a disability. There were concerns from employers and employees that the role of self-identity was not given enough importance in policy debates about mandatory disability reporting. It was unclear what is needed from a mandatory reporting approach – the number of employees who have told their employer they have a ‘diagnosed’ disability or condition, or the number of employees who identify as being ‘disabled’. In one employee’s words, “Declaring a disability is different to saying I am autistic”. Both employers and employees were unclear why the number of disabled employees ‘fitting into’ a definition given to them by the Government was important for measuring inclusive experiences in the workplace. Further still, both employers and disabled employees wanted to keep their own language and narrative of disability and being disabled that their organisations have developed and which they continue to evolve over time.
We do not feel there is evidence to support a mandatory approach to disability workforce reporting at this time. Instead, we want to see:
- increased uptake of voluntary reporting (one option is via a reviewed and updated Voluntary Reporting Framework which is currently little known about by employers),
- which focuses on the experience disabled people have at work, rather than the number of disabled people in an organisation;
- and which allows employers to use their own ‘brand’ vocabulary and narrative about disability in the workplace which is co-produced with disabled employees in their organisation.
We are going to keep our research going with our working groups until Summer 2022 and we will be working with our members to implement meaningful voluntary disability inclusion monitoring and reporting which focuses on disabled employees having a good experience of work with an employer that values their contributions to the organisation.
“If the Government says, ‘everyone needs to do this’, it is contributing to the problem”.
“If we have got good processes in place, we rarely need employees to disclose their disability”.