Disability adjustment leave in the workplace – what is it?

by | 17th August 2014 | Blog

Robert Trotter (2014), Author of A Million Futures: halving the disability employment gap states that 48% of people with disabilities believe they would still be in work if their employers had provided more flexible sick leave policies.

The concept of Disability Adjustment Leave is not a new idea.   In the early 1990s whilst working at RNIB’s Employment Rehabilitation Centre in Torquay, I recall a research project that looked at the particular experiences of 18 employers and made recommendations as to how to implement ’Disability Leave’.   G Paschkes-Bell G etal (1996) concluded in Adapting to Change When an Employee Becomes Disabled published by RNIB that it would work a bit like Maternity Leave.  However, Robert Trotter’s terminology lends itself to a much wider application to other human resource issues in today’s workplace.  Adjustment Leave “would allow all employees, including disabled people, the option to take a time-limited period of leave on a part-time basis” (Robert Trotter: 2014, A Million Futures: halving the disability employment gap, p12).  This might be for a number of regular medical appointments to accommodate a change in a health condition or disability which might result in a temporary reduction in hours.  People with Disabilities find that all too often these periods of time-off are treated as ‘‘Sickness’ when they are ‘Health’ related.

The Employer’s ‘Time Bomb’

The DWP (2013) concluded in Disability and Health Employment Strategy: the discussions so far that by 2020 a third of the workforce will be aged over 50 and of these, over half will have a disability or impairment.  Current polarising trends in the labour market are also a factor for employers.  McIntosh, S. (2013), Hollowing out and the future of the labour market, BIS Research Paper 134 that the labour market jobs growth is concentrated at the senior, professional and technical top and the low-skilled bottom with the middle continuing to shed jobs.  Many of the jobs in the middle are likely to be administrative support roles. Employers are likely to see requests for Disability Adjustment Leave for their own employees with disability or health condition increasing significantly in the next few years as well as more requests to meet caring commitments for family members as the overall population also ages and the social care budgets continue to be squeezed.

How Might Adjustment Leave work for Employers?

Disability Adjustment Leave is a model where sick leave can be replaced by temporary part-time leave.  A good example would be with a fluctuating disability or health condition.  An employee may require a series of medical appointments which require time to recover on a weekly basis.  They could work their normal hours for the remaining days and receive part-time sick leave for the days that they are unable to work.  The likely result is that this would reduce sick leave costs to the employer, but also benefit the employee in the medium to long-term. Viikari-Juntura et. al. (2006) English summary of random temporary part-time sick leave models in Finland also quantified these employer benefits.

  • The average time off sick reduced from 20 to 12 days.
  • Overall sickness levels dropped by 20%.

With enough flexibility in the policy, the effect would be to  reduce costs for employers by allowing them to retain productivity compared to having an employee on full sick leave and would also assist in enabling them to retain their experience.  I would go further and suggest that in my experience working with employers over the past 20 years; it would also significantly reduce the costs of supporting an employee to return to work after a long period of absence. Disability Adjustment Leave would not help in all situations and should be seen as a number of flexible options that Human Resource Professionals and employers can use as and when required.  For example, a permanent change in a disability or health condition may still require a permanent contractural change in either duties or pattern of work. Adjustment Leave makes sense for disabled employees too.

  • It acts as an income protection by providing an alternative to full sick pay.  A disabled employee is paid their normal pay for the days they work and sick pay for the days that they are not at work.
  • There is much more of an incentive to be at work as it avoids the conundrum that you are either fit for work or that you are not.

Disability Adjustment Leave will mean Human Resource Managers, Professionals and employers making some changes in policy.  Absence Policies that assume you are either fit or unfit for work and also have a process whereby you go off work and at some point return or leave your employment are not what is being advocated.  There is no reason why an Absence Policy cannot be rewritten to include time limited part-time sick leave with clear guidance as to the personal circumstances where it would apply. Once a revised Absence Policy has been introduced to include Disability Adjustment Leave, it needs to become part of an employee’s Right to Request Flexible Working.

I hope you have picked up on my point that although my primary interest has been to look at this from a disability perspective, this does not mean that it cannot be applied with the same rationale for all employees with employer benefits.

If you want to learn more about how this could work in your organisation, get in touch here.

Chris Catt

The Enabled Entrepreneur

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