BT ‘still failing’ its disabled employees

Telecoms & Financial Services, BT

Lofty public pronouncements by BT about its pride at being a ‘Disability Confident Employer’ continue to be at odds with the actual experience of employees seeking support, understanding and ‘reasonable adjustments’ relating to underlying health conditions.

That was the damning verdict of a series of debates at CWU Annual Conference that concluded with Telecoms & Financial Services delegates unanimously agreeing that the company is still failing to take the welfare of its disabled employees seriously.

Proposing the Lincolnshire & South Yorks Branch motion that instructs the T&FS Executive to ‘pursue the matter with renewed vigour and urgency’, Jonathan Bellshaw lamented a widespread ignorance from line managers about disabilities in general and the responsibilities the company has to provide meaningful support to those affected.

“I don’t necessarily blame them for this, because often when you are in conversation with them about the issues in question they will listen to you,” he stressed. “The problem, I think, is senior managers and the HR (human resources) and ER (employee relations) advisers, because they should know better. They should understand what the law states about the need to make reasonable adjustments.”

Pledging the Executives full support of the motion’s key demand for the union to ‘pursue the matter with renewed vigour and urgency,’ Tracey Buckley began: “Conference, it’s a reliable indicator when you get motion after motion on a particular subject matter that something is going badly wrong.

“This week we have seen motion after motion highlighting the very real difficulties our members face when suffering from mental health issues. We’ve also heard numerous motions critical of BT in how they handle the welfare of our disabled members.”

Addressing company observers in the gallery, Tracey continued: “BT, you can and do get it right, but far too often you get it wrong. Many of the policies we have in place are good – it’s the implementation of them that can be corrupt and certainly the ignorance of line managers is harmful and often used as an excuse to hide behind.

“You are failing to train your mangers to be familiar with and to understand their responsibilities to our members. It’s also our experience that in too many cases those in HR give guidance to line managers which at best can be classed as unsympathetic.

“Far too often BT doesn’t take into mitigation when an absence is disability-related. It’s far too common that there is no acknowledgement that it’s okay to support increased absence as a ‘reasonable adjustment’.”

Earlier, Conference delegates had debated that specific issue, unanimously passing a motion instructing the Executive to enter into urgent discussion with BT to ensure that a specific disability-related sick leave policy is created and implemented.

Seconding that demand, Jackie Morrey of Mid Wales, The Marches & North Staffs explained: “My branch submitted this motion to this year’s Disability Conference due to the increasing number of cases where members with a disability were given warnings for absences that were outside their control.”

Mel Gorrie of Scotland No.1 added: “I’m pretty sure we’ve all got experiences we could talk about where our disabled members have been unfairly treated. I’m tired of having to explain to managers that, when you look at overall five-year attendance, things have often remained the same or got worse, because very few disabilities go away. They generally get worse or harder to manage.”

Responding for the Executive, assistant secretary Dave Jukes stressed the issue had already been raised with BT’s new chief medical officer.

  • In another debate highlighting the particular difficulties faced by disabled BT members whose roles are displaced due to reorganisations of work streams or offshoring, delegates agreed that specific consideration should be given to providing suitable alternative work, potentially the including the provision of homeworking, prior to changes being implemented.
  • T&FS Conference delegates also gave their unanimous backing to a South Wales Branch motion instructing the Executive to seek agreement across BT Group for improvements to the current sick/attendance management process and guidance when dealing with those experiencing mental health issues or living with neurodiversity.

Executive speaker Tracey Fussey explained: “It is estimated that around one in seven people are neurodivergent, which includes a range of conditions such as attention deficit disorders, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia.

“Being neurodivergent will usually amount to a disability under the 2010 Equality Act – and this means an employer has a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace and the individual’s role that will remove or minimise any disadvantage to them.

“The Executive certainly believes that more can be done by BT to embrace the strengths of a neurodiverse workforce, and that supportive policies and procedures should reflect tailored support for those experiencing mental ill-health or neurodivergent workers’ needs.”