Every year 2,500 people are injured and diagnosed with a spinal cord injury. Once medically ready to leave hospital, returning to employment after a spinal cord injury may be a possibility if you have not been medically retired.
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In this post, Fiona Martin, Director and Head of Employment Law at Martin Searle Solicitors, provides spinal cord injury employment law advice and outlines the reasonable adjustments that disabled employees can request from their employers and other factors to consider when returning to work.
What are my employer’s responsibilities to me & my spinal cord injury?
As someone with a spinal cord injury, you meet the definition of disabled as set out in the Equality Act (2010). This is because you have a long-term injury that is likely to last more than a year and has a substantially adverse effect on your day-to-day activities.
Your employer has a duty to consider reasonable adjustments to all aspects of the way in which you work. The Equality Act (2010) states that your employer has a duty to meet with you to discuss what reasonable adjustments could be put in place so you can return to your job after a spinal cord injury.
What reasonable adjustments in the workplace can be made for a spinal cord injury?
These vary from disability to disability but there are specific spinal cord injury adjustments in the workplace to be considered and that you should make yourself familiar with before moving forwards; these include:
- A larger desk and workspace to accommodate your wheelchair and ensure you can move around freely.
- Ergonomically designed equipment, such as a mouse, keyboard, headset etc.
- Adaptive equipment and assistive technology, including universal cuffs that attach to items, voice-enabled gadgets etc.
- Software that enables you to dictate using your voice rather than typing on a keyboard.
A good employer will have kept in touch with you during your time in hospital to keep track of your progress and to wish you well. However, in many cases, there might have been little contact and possibly an expectation from your employer that you will not return.
Planning your return to employment after a spinal cord injury
A starting point when thinking about your return to employment after a spinal cord injury would be to discuss returning to work with your health team to look at adjustments to help you return to your job.
These adjustments will depend on the seriousness of your spinal cord injuries.
We would also recommend contacting your employer to determine when you would like to look at returning to work and what adaptations might be required. This may include working from home if your workplace is inaccessible, as is often the case with old buildings.
Since the pandemic, many people have continued to work from home and therefore employers are much more amenable to requests for hybrid working.
Assessments can be made through the Access to Work scheme. This provides help identifying the correct equipment as well as funding so that your employer can reclaim the costs of any adaptions.
What can my employer request when I return to work after an SCI?
Your employer may request that you attend an Occupational Health meeting. This meeting can either be face-to-face or virtual. It would be helpful to obtain reports from your medical team which set out your prognosis and any reasonable adjustments they recommend to facilitate your return to work.
When you see an Occupational Health adviser, it is important that you are satisfied that they have the correct expertise to advise someone with a spinal cord injury.
Once you have made a request for reasonable adjustments, your employer should meet with you to consider your request and go through the adjustments they believe are reasonable for a business of their size and the resources they have to implement them.
The question of what is a reasonable adjustment is an objective one.
Employers must consider the extent to which the adjustment would prevent any disadvantage caused by your disability and the practicability of the adjustments and their financial resources.
It might also be beneficial for you to return on a Graduated Return to Work (GRTW). This would mean you would be working reduced hours to build up your stamina over an agreed upon period of time.
There is, however, no duty for an employer to pay you your previous full-time salary. An exception is when Permanent Health Insurance (PHI) has been supplementing your salary once you have been off for a fixed period, usually 6 months.
This is an insurance scheme that your employer has with an insurer and provides a percentage of your full income while you are unable to work. In cases where you are in receipt of this, the PHI payments are likely to remain in place so that you are not disadvantaged for attempting to return to work part-time.
What if my employer rejects the reasonable adjustments for my spinal cord injury?
If your employer comes to the conclusion that the requested reasonable adjustments are not reasonable or these have been tried and haven’t worked, they may then start an ill-health capability dismissal process.
In some cases, this might mean activating an ill-health retirement pension. However, this can only be fair where the employer has obtained medical evidence that there is no likelihood of an improved prognosis and that you are unable to return to work.
At Martin Searle Solicitors we have a team of experienced disability discrimination solicitors. Every October, we run ‘Disability Matters’, our campaign to stamp out disability discrimination in the workplace. This includes a free 30-minute telephone advice line on Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout October.
If you require legal assistance on any disability issues, do not hesitate to get in touch with our award-winning team.