Hidden disabilities – why you should declare them to your union

Union Matters, Health & Safety, Equalities

Mark Anthony Bastiani and Jonathan Bellshaw are the elected NEC leads for CWU members with disabilities. Here, they explain why it is important that members disclose their hidden disabilities to the CWU…

‘Why should I declare?’ is a question our representatives often hear from members when we ask why they have not disclosed their disability. And the sad fact is, that all too often, this conversation takes place when a member is facing possible disciplinary action over something which may have been connected with their disability.

When we use the term ‘hidden disabilities’, we mean of course those that are not immediately apparent or obviously visible and it is extremely important that members know, and are aware of, their legal rights in this respect.

Under the Equality Act 2010 – the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland – employers are legally obliged to consider making reasonable adjustments where appropriate for their employees with disabilities, but only if they know or could reasonably be expected to know of the disability.

Employees are of course under no obligation to disclose a disability to their employer. But if a member, at some point, faces a disciplinary situation over an issue that may have been connected with their disability, and if that disability has not been registered by that member, then it is unlikely to be taken into consideration during the disciplinary process.

CWU members can register or disclose their disability with the union and this information will be held in strictest confidence and it will not be disclosed to their employer, or to anyone else, without the member’s express permission.

There are good reasons why it is important and in members’ best interests to declare this information to the CWU. Firstly, it means that the union is then able to help and advise on disclosing the disability to the employer if the member decides to do so and in pushing for appropriate reasonable workplace adjustments.

And secondly, knowing more about our members with disabilities enables the union to improve our ability to represent members with these different conditions.

On our current national membership database, the number of members who have indicated that they do have a disability is just under 2,000. This figure represents slightly more that 1 per cent of our total membership, which is considerably below the 19 per cent of people in the UK of working age who have a disability according to the Government’s most recent Family Resources Survey

This indicates to us that there may be a significant number of our members with a disability that the union is not aware of, or who have developed a disability since they first joined the CWU.

As a member, you can declare and/or update your disability status by speaking to your branch secretary, or, if you know your membership number you can log onto the members-only section of the CWU website and change or update it yourself.

Please help us to help you.