Many law firms do not understand how to make reasonable adjustments for disabled staff and solicitors are hiding their disabilities at work, a damning study by the Solicitors Regulation Authority has concluded.
The SRA found ‘startling’ levels of confusion around workplace adjustments and said firms are not collecting relevant disability data. 'One of our most startling findings was around the uncertainty about providing workplace adjustments. How should these be approached? Did they need to be reviewed? What happens when adjustments change?' it said.
The study also identifies 'uneasiness for some people about requesting adjustments and discussing them'.
The survey of 3,000 firms found that solicitors fear disclosing disabilities because of the impact this could have on their careers. Today, 3% of solicitors declare they have a disability, a figure virtually unchanged in the past 10 years. This compares with 13% of the UK workforce as a whole.
‘This suggests many disabled solicitors are not declaring their disability, so are potentially missing out on support and adjustments which could and should be available to them,’ the SRA said.
The report suggested that firms collect and monitor disability data throughout the recruitment pipeline, and stressed the importance of managers ‘walking the walk’ by operating flexibly. It added that management should have a ‘flexible, open-minded approach to managing employees and working. This can be as simple as flexible start and finish times with the aim of ‘removing stigma attached to staff leaving work early or starting later or working from a different location’.
On recruitment, the SRA said psychometric tests should be reviewed to ensure they are disability-inclusive and firms should work with recruitment agencies to insist that a diverse range of candidates is put forward.
Law Society president Simon Davis said: ‘The SRA report shows many disabled lawyers are reluctant to mention their disability to their employer – and are missing out on adjustments which may be available.' He noted that 16% of respondents to the Law Society's anonymous 2019 survey of PC holders reported having an illness or disability impacting their day to day life. 'Everyone should feel comfortable bringing their full self to work and supported in asking for any reasonable adjustments.'
The Law Society is working to produce professional guidance on how best to support disabled people and create more inclusive work environments, Davis said.