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Equal Opportunities

It is no wonder that many organisations focus on race, age and gender when dealing Disability should feature strongly in Equal Opportunities Policieswith diversity and equal opportunities as disability is an area where the whole topic becomes far more contentious and complex. Connection explores why the disability arena is often the hardest area of equal opportunities and most overlooked by employers.

Checks and balances

Imagine the uproar if your employer managed you out of the organisation – perhaps because you are a woman or someone of ethnic descent! Yet that is what happens to many disabled employees. Employers who still have final salary schemes (specifically the public sector) use ill health early retirement pensions to manage out disabled employees, motivating the move with a tax free cash sum and a potential income for life. However, the NHS Pensions Agency have reduced the numbers of ill health early retirement pensions by tightening the criteria – which means that if the employee is not granted the pension, they will only have State Incapacity Benefits to live on.

Litigation on the horizon

So... you manage the employee out of the organisation using this route and they are in receipt of a pension... What happens next? Many pension scheme rules allow the Trustees to review the state of health of the employee. So what happens if their condition improves and they no longer fulfil the incapacity definition of the pension? It can then be withdrawn. Result? The employee can then sue the employer for failing to make reasonable adaptations under the Disability Discrimination Act (1995), and so if nothing else, a clear audit trail of DDA compliance is required.

With many line managers reluctant to retain employees with a disability (fear of the effect of the disability, having to deliver the work load, and questioning whether the employee can still do this, etc.) one of the best ways to encourage adaptations is to show the employer the capitalised cost of the ill health pension if granted - as this can easily be up to ten times the employee’s salary and much more than adaptation costs. In some cases the organisation has pressured Trustees to grant a pension before the clinical outcome is known, and once occupational sick pay has been utilised the employee simply sits in limbo between the organisation and the pension.

It could happen to anyone

People are born into gender and race – disability can strike anyone at any time. Imagine the effect of becoming disabled, unsure about the clinical prognosis, the effect that it will have on your life, your family, your colleagues... Then overlay this with the financial concerns, the possibility of being encouraged to take the pension when you actually want to work, unsure of how much the pension will be if granted and scared that if it is not granted, that State Benefits would be the only option.

Therein lies the challenge. Is your organisation one that embraces a diverse workforce? Would your company retain you rather than manage you out using a pension or income protection scheme? Take time to really think your situation through and if you are comfortable that your employer is clear in its disability process and policy then you may end up with the diverse workforce you have been seeking!

  • 1st November 2007
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