Small business employment of disabled people

Blogs 3 May 2022

Becca Gooch, Policy Advisor at the Federation of Small Businesses, breaks down new research from the Business Without Barriers report into disability employment and explains FSB’s recommendations for Government.

Small businesses are employing disabled people and people with a long-term health condition at a higher rate than their larger counterparts. The close-knit nature of many small and micro businesses often provides a supportive environment, more adept at providing flexibility. This flexibility can be essential to supporting disabled people – during the recruitment process and throughout their career. Flexibility can mean informality in the recruitment process, which can hugely benefit those with more complex needs, while flexibility during working hours can be vital to supporting those with fluctuating health conditions.

New FSB research shows that 51% of small business employers either currently employs, or in the last three years have employed, a disabled person or someone with a physical or mental health condition. It is likely that this figure is an under-estimate, due to the hidden nature of some disabilities and health conditions.

Flexible working and reasonable adjustments

Flexible working can be key to supporting disabled employees, and FSB research shows that 91% of all small employers offer some form of flexible working to their employees, rising to 97% of those who employ a disabled person. While the vast majority are already providing some form of flexible working, if an employee makes a flexible working request because of a disability, the employer could treat this as a reasonable adjustment request.

Many small businesses are already making reasonable adjustments for their staff – 50% of those who employ a disabled person or someone with a long-term health condition have adjusted hours or shift patterns, 35% have implemented a phased return to work after a period of ill-health, 19% have provided additional or specialised equipment, and 15% have made their workplace more accessible.

Access to Work

The UK Government offers a discretionary grant scheme to provide personalised support to disabled people who are in employment or self-employment – Access to Work. It is important to note that Access to Work will not pay for reasonable adjustments, which are the changes employers must legally make to support disabled employees, instead being designed to support adjustments over and above this. However, usage of this vital scheme is low – only 8% of small employers who employ a disabled person have used it. Awareness is much higher than usage, but still relatively low, with 49% of employers of disabled people being aware of the scheme. Improving awareness and usage of Access to Work should be a priority for Government to support disabled workers.

Occupational health

Another form of support employers can offer their employees is occupational health. FSB research shows that 28% of small employers offer occupational health services to their staff, a huge increase from 10% in 2018. Occupational health services can support disabled people or people with health conditions in the workplace, and improve the health outcomes of employees. However, services can be complicated and expensive to access, providing a barrier to many small businesses. The Government has committed to testing ways to support small employers to access occupational health, which FSB welcomes. Improving access to high-quality occupational health services could be hugely beneficial for employers and employees alike.

Looking for support for your small business?

Small businesses looking to help disabled employees can find information and support on the Acas website – they have resources for accessibility at work and for supporting disabled people.

Business Without Barriers

Entrepreneurs face many hurdles - disability shouldn't be one of them. Discover stories from successful business owners who are disabled people, guidance from leading experts and organisations, and FSB’s recommendations for Government.

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