Margaret Hodge – The cost of corporate ignorance

Risk management is as relevant to small employers as it is torisks companies take in failing to treat employee disability as a serious concern in the recruitment process. multinationals. It is just a question of scale. But how many employers count disability as a risk factor, along with interest rates, demand fluctuations or legislation?

Business will know about race and sex-discrimination legislation. But research shows that small firms, in particular, have yet to address the implications of the Disability Discrimination Act.

From the end of last year, employers with 15 or more employees could be breaking the law if they do not give a disabled person the same employment opportunities as everyone else.

Many accountancy practices may fall within this limit, along with the clients they advise.

Failure to comply with the Act’s provisions can lead to time-consuming employment tribunal cases, with the risk of compensatory awards as well as lost opportunity costs and damaged reputations.

Like other discrimination legislation, there is no minimum period of service before which a complaint can be brought and no upper limit on compensation.

The Disability Rights Commission will help disabled people take cases to tribunals. Small businesses cannot afford to close their eyes, cross their fingers and hope for the best.

Recent cases have involved payments of #13,950 to a fork-lift driver refused a job because of a hearing disability, #2,600 to an employee with a spinal problem dismissed rather than offered an available alternative job, and #100,000 awarded against a large company for discrimination against a partially sighted employee.

Many misconceptions exist about the range of jobs that disabled people can do. Often imagination, rather than money, is required.

Large-print documents for a visually impaired employee cost almost nothing.

A magnetic loop telephone for someone with hearing difficulties can cost as little as #60. Moving furniture to enable wheelchair access involves little more than effort.

The benefits can be considerable: recruitment from a wider pool of talent; retaining the experience and expertise of an employee who becomes disabled, rather than incurring additional recruitment and training costs; as well as the commitment and loyalty that disabled people bring to the workplace.

The government knows small firms might worry about these new obligations.

Financial help may be possible and we have set up the DDA Helpline to provide practical assistance. An employers’ code of practice is also available.

There are more than a million disabled people without jobs who want to work. An appalling waste of talent! Businesses run the risk of not getting the best person for the job if they ignore disabled people.

Margaret Hodge is minister for disability issues. The DDA helpline is 0345 622 633

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