How ‘The Box’ Is Ruining Employment Prospects For The Disabled

employment discrimination

Finding employment can be difficult even for the most skilled, motivated and healthy of us all. There can be so many people competing over very few positions and you’re not always going to be the top candidate, or the most knowledgeable and confident person that makes it to interview. And that’s assuming you make it to interview. A lot of jobs these days seem to be looking for people with experience far beyond their years, experience that they couldn’t possibly have obtained without previous employment, which not everybody has. Not all of us were offered that paper round at 14 years old by the friendly owner of our village corner shop, or that summer spent earning pocket money helping the family business. However, for a person with disabilities, it only gets more difficult.

We all know that there are a wide range of disabilities and I think it’s fair to say that not every disability will impair performance in the workplace. It is thought that up to 50% of disabled people are working in the UK. In a previous workplace of mine, there were a handful of employees with ‘obvious’ disabilities (by which I mean that they were using walking aids or hearing aids) and many others with less obvious disabilities that I might not have been aware of if they hadn’t told me. They had all worked for the company for many years and upon becoming disabled, had been allowed a role that would keep them in work without putting any major strain on their health – the company had made reasonable adjustments for them, as they must, by law.

Unfortunately, not every employer can be relied on to treat all applicants and employees equally. In fact, it has been found that admitting to disability can tarnish your chances of being employed at all, whilst withholding information on a disability until achieving employment can result in dismissal. So if you can’t tell the truth and you can’t be caught lying, what option do you have? Not every disabled person is entitled to benefits, nor does every disabled person want to be out of work.

Nowadays, most job applications are completed online – for the majority of us, this is very convenient. However, have you ever noticed ‘The Box’? The box of which I’m referring to is appearing more and more frequently on online application forms. It’s a check box which asks something along the lines of ‘Do you consider yourself to have a disability?’ and in itself presents a dilemma.

‘Do you consider yourself to have a disability?’

The phrasing seems to put all the responsibility upon the applicant and their ability to ‘consider’ their situation, when surely you either have a disability, or you do not. What is there to ‘consider’? If your disability is unlikely to be noticed or affect your work, you might be tempted to leave it blank – but you may later struggle to explain yourself if an incident actually does occur. However, if you tick that box and admit to disability and  later find yourself on the receiving end of a generic rejection email, you’ll always be wondering if it was down to The Box.

In fact, this very thing happened to a friend of mine. She claims that she applied for a position at UK clothing company (who we’ve decided not to name) six times – entering the exact same details, with the exact same CV – to find that she was only offered employment upon not ticking The Box. She remarks that upon admission of her disability, they seemed keen to dismiss her despite being ranked as the best-performing out of all new employees – in fact, they did dismiss her, only to rehire her when they struggled to find a replacement.

However, she is not alone. I have since spoken to failed applicants, with up to ten years of retail experience that ticked The Box, as well as 24 former employees from the same company, from various locations across the UK, 100% of whom have informed me that, as far as they’re aware, none of their colleagues had a disability and that they did not tick The Box on their application. Of course, we could argue that this is not an appropriate sample size to draw a conclusion from and largely why I reluctantly agreed not to name the company in question.

The main issue with The Box is that it doesn’t trigger a follow-up question, nor at the least a blank text area which would allow somebody to explain their condition and what special provisions they may need – which could well be the use of standard facilities which are already required by customers visiting the store or even an adjustment as minor as ensuring a person’s break can be taken at a specific time or that they are not assigned certain shifts.

Is it time to scrap ‘The Box’? A person should not be denied employment upon admission of disability, especially not without there being reasonable grounds to suspect that the person is incapable of fulfilling their role. An employer must make an effort, wherever possible, to create a suitable working environment for disabled employees. See the Equality Act (2010) for more information.

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