Feb 072019
 
With thanks to the author, Emily. You can visit her blog here: https://starfishmainlyobeys.wordpress.com/2019/02/01/doublespeak/
Disability Confident, double standards and doublespeak
The problems with Disability Confident are well known, at least amongst disabled people. It promotes the employer without necessarily providing any help to the employees it’s supposed to benefit. Experiencing this first hand has given me a tiny taste of the hoops you have to jump through when you have to ask those in charge for help but it also highlights the many contradictory attitudes and rules at play when it comes to disability equality and inclusion in the workplace.
Here is a run down of some of the barriers I’ve come up against since opening up about my health at work and trying to hold my employer to account to it’s own policies:

Being an expert

I am suddenly an expert on my own health when they want to prevaricate about the long list of reasonable adjustments that occupational health have recommended after they finally insisted on my referral to occupational health about 3 years after becoming ill at work, 6 months after starting a new role (in which they had repeatedly refused to carry my adjustments forward) and 1 month after lodging a grievance.

I am NOT an expert on my own health at ALL other times:

After having three months off work, almost having brain surgery, being repatriated to the UK by their insurance company, and providing much medical evidence of numerous tests, treatment and diagnoses, plus letters from doctors advising how it might affect me at work and to have a conversation with my employer about any adjustments they might provide, I have to request my own return to work interview so this can be discussed. No one wants to do it.

Despite the above, fitting my employer’s definition of disability and that of the Equality Act, another manager suggests that my diagnosis is incorrect and asks if I can prove it is legally a disability (not really unless you want me to go to court because that is for a judge to decide). I only want to know IF they can provide any support, for example by changing or reducing my timetable, for which I am willing to take a pay cut:

Managers consistently tell me they have googled Meniere’s disease or their relative has it and therefore they know all about (are they trained to do this like Trump is taught to feign empathy with generic post-its because its an eerily common occurrence for a rare disease?):

When I request certain changes to communications about ME to facilitate reasonable adjustments being carried forward to my new job within the same organisation (because one manager tries to blame my faultless line manager for their failings whilst making themselves sound wonderful and me like a huge inconvenience, none of which is very relevant), I am literally told that they know best and they send the email to my new managers anyway:

I tell my new managers and HR that I am happy to speak to occupational health but that I am concerned about the timing of the referral because of further delays and complications medical intervention is likely to cause, which seems unnecessary since my disability and adjustments have long been established and I have already had to go through a much protracted process to get there but my concerns are dismissed and they insist that it is necessary every three months. Well that’s the first I heard and I’ve never had another assessment before or since. They don’t seem to trust me. Perhaps they’re hoping that it won’t come back in my favour or that I give up and resign before it does. I don’t. It does. Even occupational health advise that the situation would be better resolved by management rather than their intervention.

Occupational health have never met me (the assessment is done over the phone), nor are they specialists so I’m baffled that work are willing to take their word as proof of my condition but not my own, or the specialist doctors I have seen over the years. When OH advise my employers that my return to work will be dependent on resolution of work issues and adjustments, work tell me I need to go back to my doctors to get a sick note to cover me in the interim. There is still no resolution to work issues or adjustments.

Confidentiality

I am told that I can not see my own grievance records or reports due to confidentiality (I am also given other excuses such as they don’t exist) but I have no such privilege. I have to repeatedly share intimate details of my health, personal life and experiences at work with various members of staff in an attempt to get support. I’m feeling less supported by the day.

There is no confidentiality when my partner is suspended due to a minor/irrelevant/spent conviction on his criminal record and rumours fly about the reasons why. This is only “necessary” because they didn’t complete our criminal record checks before we started working with children. It is confirmed by HR that this should never be the case but yet he is punished for their mistakes.

Duty of Care

Duty of care is used as a way to justify unnecessary calls, emails and demands to come in to work on the weekend. It has never been utilised for our benefit. Instead they knowingly make my job impossible and health worse by variably delaying and refusing to make the reasonable adjustments I had previously, spreading lies about me, and then later refusing to let me see or discuss my own grievance reports so I cannot challenge any of this.

We are told health checks will be completed on arrival as part of the induction process. In my previous job with the same organisation this was very thorough and included eye tests, blood tests and x-rays. Here it consists of being taken to a GP who in exchange for a fee takes one look at us and writes a note confirming we are fit and well. The second time I need to apply for residence, a colleague gets the note without me even seeing the doctor.

I have to request information about accessing healthcare in a new country (which I need) for about 6 months before HR send me a list of English speaking doctors which I have already obtained by now via the Embassy website. I am told not to bother with the doctors in this country because its not worth the hassle. It is a hassle but I need one.

I also have to request confirmation of the disability absence policy about a dozen times before I receive confirmation. It is still contradicted for the next few months and I am blamed for this confusion (I am disabled you see). I am told I don’t need to provide medical evidence if my absence is related to an ongoing condition, then I’m told I do, then I don’t, then I do… I am wasting NHS time (and mine) in the process. My sick notes advising them of exacerbation of Meniere’s and stress and anxiety go unacknowledged anyway and my line manager is told not to contact me while I am on long term sick contrary to policy.

They eventually tell me they will make adjustments but when I ask for information about them and my return to work they won’t discuss it. At one point I even get an email from HR saying “See you on Monday” when I don’t work on Mondays and I still have no information about my return to work, adjustments, timetable, anything.

Work health insurance premium creeps up to $200 but cover is reduced. Due to moving jobs within the financial year and needing regular appointments I have to pay the premium twice (after much ado this is later refunded). Occupational health recommend returning to the UK for consolidated care and a new hearing aid which I cannot get in this country but the insurance no longer covers me outside of the region I’m working in.

When my employer tries to terminate my employment via their lawyers after I make a tribunal claim (not before raising concerns informally, going through a grievance, appeal and the internal whistle-blowing process) they are happy to leave me without access to health insurance in this country AND access to the NHS in the UK as they are both dependent on my employment with the British Council.

Inclusion

I attend a training session about disability inclusion that I cannot fully participate in due to my own hearing problems, which are being ignored and lack of adjustments, which are being refused. They ask non-disabled teachers to pretend to be blind and deaf so we know what this feels like. I don’t even know where to start with this…

We are bombarded with emails about the importance of EDI while they continue to deny my disability and any help.

Child Protection

We have a meeting about the importance of Child Protection and proper criminal record checks when they haven’t carried out our criminal record checks.

Bullying 

I am told by a senior manager not to accuse them of bullying when I haven’t.

I am teaching lessons about bullying and bystanders as part of anti-bullying week whilst managers repeatedly refuse adjustments, contact us at the weekend, try to intimidate me with thinly veiled threats and sack my partner when he travels back to the UK with me to see doctors. No one in management or HR helps us. Two colleagues kindly stick their neck out. I am told they cannot accompany me to a meeting. When I insist they relent but tell me they are not allowed to speak.

To add insult to injury, senior managers accuse me of bullying and “attacking” them while/because I have reluctantly raised a grievance about being bullied by them. Something I don’t want to and shouldn’t have to do. Asking them to follow their own policies is not an attack.

Victim blaming and gas-lighting

I am told that I am “difficult” for asking questions about policy and procedure that has not been followed to our detriment. In the next meeting I am told that the failure to make reasonable adjustments is my fault because I should have been more “pushy”. I am pulling off quite a feat being both too demanding and too meek. I can’t help wondering if a man would have to put up with this…

I am offered MORE teaching hours for LESS pay. And they also kindly offer a small and noisy telesales room for me to work in which would be the opposite of helpful.

In the emails between senior management I shouldn’t have seen they say I am abusing my disability but also suggest I am confused because of my disability. So disability is used as a stick to beat me with. Twice.

In my withheld grievance report a woman from HR who I’ve spoken to twice in my life describes me as being “highly strung” and stressed about being in a new country. I have lived in a few countries quite easily and I was positively laid back until these processes made my life a living hell. I am stressed about being lied to and lied about and having conditions (hearing loss, tinnitus, migraines and vertigo which are all worse when stressed and sleep deprived – and an aneurysm I would like not to burst) which I am doing my best to control with no help from you. And so I’m not even allowed to ask questions or be angry about this situation for fear of being dismissed as a hysterical woman.

A manager tells other managers that I never told him about my disability even though it was disclosed on application, immediately after interview and in consecutive emails from me and a previous manager.

I am told that I did not have a reduced teaching timetable in my previous job when I did.

I am told they are under no obligation to make reasonable adjustments when they are.

I am told I got my own date of birth wrong on my DBS when I very much doubt it.

I am told I was unsuccessful in my application for teacher training when I didn’t/couldn’t apply due to the uncertainty about reduced hours and unworkable deadlines. I wanted to spend my year doing that training not being signed off sick with no income (hence trying to ascertain what support they can provide ever since I got the job).

I am told that they cannot afford to lend me a laptop (even though other staff have them and I’m working at the British Council which is not exactly deprived of resources) or make adjustments to my hours because as a ‘Network Teacher’ I am too expensive and they need to maximise our use. I am not going to be very useful when I’m sick. (Later they are happy to spend thousands of pounds on solicitors and QCs defending this behaviour when I make an employment tribunal claim).

Speaking up

In light of the Oxfam sex scandal we are encouraged to speak out about any wrong doing. We have, even specifically about Child Protection, but our concerns our brushed under the carpet and we are brushed out of a job.

Disability Confident

My employer is signed up to the much maligned Government Disability Confident scheme which is supposed to demonstrate their commitment to recruiting and supporting disabled staff in work. ‘Proactively offering and making reasonable adjustments as required’ and ‘Ensuring there are no barriers to the development and progression of disabled staff’ are core actions for the Disability Confident Employer (level 2) badge, which my employer advertises. But all that is required to sign up is agreeing to five commitments and identifying ONE action that will make a difference to disabled people. They don’t have to prove anything and there is no auditing… so… I disclose my disability on application (for the first time in my life) trusting they are what they say they are and they spend the next year trying not to make reasonable adjustments for me which would help me stay healthy and develop my career.

The Equality Act 2010

This is incorporated in to many British Council policies and informs a lot of what we do as teachers. We have online training, workshops, EDI weeks, steering groups etc. I am referred to Occupational Health to prove I am disabled and covered by the Equality Act before they will make adjustments that had already been agreed by the British Council. OH advise that the probability of disability is likely according to the EqA but when it comes to the crunch the British Council argue that it doesn’t apply in my case because I work abroad. The British Council conducts most of its work abroad. So we are held to account to the policies my employer promotes but offered none of the protection.

When I lodge a tribunal claim, my employer’s lawyers argue that the UK has no jurisdiction to hear it because my employment has no connection to the UK whilst also advising that they cannot settle the claim because it would have to be approved by the UK treasury.

We teachers have no Union or staff association (when we eventually got a teacher’s rep we were told that her job is not to represent teachers… …). Higher managers are of course on much better contracts with actual employment rights.

 

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 Posted by at 15:38

  2 Responses to “Disability Confident, a disability Con.”

  1. Hi Catherine. Thanks for your msg. It’s really helpful to hear from others although really sad to see how uncommon this is. I’m sorry you’ve had to go through similar. I do wonder about that Kafka book…

  2. I was a teacher when I became disabled. All this sounds very familiar, almost like there’s a book on how to manage disabled people out of the workplace. I think it must have been written by Kafka.

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